A tech report from The Verge combining two of my favourite things — watches and anxiety.
It’s obvious, when you think about it. Of course not all Neanderthals were ‘cavemen’ — half were women.
Sheanderthal – Aeon Essays
Archaeology is no exception to biases against women’s interests across science and the humanities. Since the early days, a tendency to conceptualise humanity’s deep origins as populated literally by ‘cavemen’ has led to presumed male activities being presented as most visible and interesting. … In fact, for most of the subsequent 160 years, female Neanderthals – if featured at all – tend to be fewer in number, peripherally located, and limited to ‘domesticated’ activities including childcare and skin-working. They are essentially scenery, in the words of the anthropologist Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, rather than active providers working on stone knapping or hunting and, in addition, they’re often fearfully lurking, hidden in dark grottos.
The world is a very different place now.
Why eye-catching graphics are vital for getting to grips with climate change – The Conversation
One misconception about the climate crisis is that warming will be uniform across the world. Deniers cite cold fronts or blizzards as evidence that warming is exaggerated, or hark back to past heatwaves – such as that experienced by the UK in 1976 when temperatures exceeded 35°C – as proof that the scientists have got it wrong. Apart from this misleading conflation of weather (daily conditions) and climate (long-term conditions), this kind of argument misses the complex patchwork of effects that interact to create what gets reported in the headline figures. Maps can be an invaluable weapon against this misunderstanding. … [W]hat is needed are more universally accessible visualisations that are able to show where we’re heading in no uncertain terms.
How on earth would you protect future generations from something with a half-life of over 700 million years? Use your imagination.
The art of pondering Earth’s distant future – Scientific American
We do not, of course, live in these imagined worlds. In this sense, they are unreal—merely fictions. However, our capacities to envision potential futures, and to feel empathy for those who may inhabit them, are very real. Depictions of tomorrow can have powerful, concrete effects on the world today. This is why deep time thought experiments are not playful games, but serious acts of intellectual problem-solving. It is why the safety case experts’ models of far future nuclear waste risks are uniquely valuable, even if they are, at the end of the day, mere approximations.
How would a piano sound on Mars? Embark on an interplanetary sonic journey – Aeon Videos
If the Universe is born and no one is present to hear it, does it still make a sound? Well, theoretically, yes. As this video from the US filmmaker John D Boswell explores, where a ‘thick soup of atoms’ is present, sound is possible. Made in collaboration with the podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz, this short documentary deploys dramatic CGI visuals, a pulsing score and the voices of prominent scientists to explore the sounds of space – from those humanity has recorded to those we can only speculate about.
The Sounds of Space: A sonic adventure to other worlds – YouTube
Space is more than just a feast for the eyes. It’s a feast for the ears. You just have to know where — and when — to look. Floating in the silent void of space are trillions of islands of sound, each with their own sonic flavor — some eerily familiar, some wildly different than Earth’s. And even space itself was once brimming with sound.
Here’s something I wasn’t expecting to be reading about this week — the search for meteorites at the South Pole.
Polar Light, by Barry Lopez – Harper’s Magazine
These field quarters are a National Science Foundation (NSF) deep-remote cold camp, in the Transantarctic Mountains, 220 miles from the South Pole. We’re encamped near the base of Graves Nunataks, an isolated set of mountain peaks standing proud of a massive ice sheet. (“Nunatak” is an Iñupiaq word, imported from the Northern Hemisphere, describing rock exposed above an ice sheet.) Except for our cookstoves we have no source of heat, and the four men and two women in our party have been here for nearly two weeks. Our camp is at the edge of the Polar Plateau that forms Antarctica’s vast interior, an ice cap four times the size of Greenland, a region of the world I have been chronicling for the past thirty years. On this frigid summer day in mid-January, 1999, the six of us are many hundreds of miles from any other human, except for those at the South Pole.
Once taken in hand and placed under a microscope each meteorite is revelatory. The overwhelming majority of them come from the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, and are so distinctive, one from the other, that scientists have been able to create a kind of geography of the asteroid belt, a geologic map that allows them to push deeper into our still hazy understanding of how the solar system evolved. In short, every meteorite represents an important contribution to the unraveling of the mystery of Earth’s origin. Therefore, though the six of us will find only 186 meteorites, our weather-compromised effort will still be viewed as successful.
But it was this image from the article that I first saw on the TYWKIWDBI blog that caught my eye, as it reminded me of that looping mathsy animation I found earlier. It’s a multiple-exposure photograph showing the sun orbiting the South Pole one afternoon, through the night and into the next morning — a midnight sun.
Time doesn’t stand still, even at the South Pole. Towards the end of their expidition, the scientists ponder the shift to the more quantative, less hands-on approach they’ve noticed over the years.
Back in McMurdo we’ve both witnessed changes as the hallways of the old science building, perennially crowded with camping gear, have given way to the antiseptically tidy and brightly lit hallways of the Crary Science and Engineering Center. The corridors of the building buzz with the ceaseless clicking of keyboards, a kind of white noise, accompanied by the electronic beeps that signal a task has been completed or information is now awaiting retrieval. The numerical results of a theoretical approach, of someone’s plumbing the nimbus of numbers surrounding a little-understood event, are both esoteric and arcane; and the speed with which they’re produced, and the sheer volume of them, is intimidating. The process suggests that knowledge has been obtained, but in fact there is not much more here than staggering specificity and a quantity of numbers significant enough to support statistical probability. Massive data sets, for some, represent irrefutable truth, or insights that transcend previously established boundaries, but the data might be no more than intensely self-referential. Impressive but unconvincing.
The belief that one can reach a state of certainty, about anything, acts as a goad for those who regard the anomalies that inevitably turn up in their data not as a caution but as an inconvenience.
“I had a theology professor once,” I say to John, “who told us that religion was not about being certain but about living with uncertainty. It was about being comfortable with doubt, and maintaining the continuity of one’s reverence for a profound mystery.”
I’m not sure John hears me. He is reclined on his sleeping bag with only his lower legs visible to me past a pile of gear. Perhaps he’s fallen asleep. It’s been a long day.
“We gain deeper knowledge,” he finally responds. “But no guarantee that we’re any closer to wisdom.”
A sentiment still necessary today, as shown by Content Catnip in one of her quotes from Svend Brinkmann’s recent book, Standing Firm: Resisting The Self Improvement Craze.
Comforting thought: Doubt is a virtue, certainty is blinkered tunnel vision – Content Catnip
In essence, certainty is dogmatic, whereas doubt has an important ethical value. Certainty’s ‘I know’ can easily lead to blindness. Doubt on the other hand, leads to openness, to other ways of acting and new understandings of the world.
Antarctica is certainly a remarkable place. It’s strange to think that we knew more about the far reaches of the solar system than the bottom of our own planet. Perhaps you fancy a trip there yourself? No problem — if you have a spare $50,000 or so. Best be quick, though.
Miles of ice collapsing into the sea – The New York Times
The acceleration is making some scientists fear that Antarctica’s ice sheet may have entered the early stages of an unstoppable disintegration. Because the collapse of vulnerable parts of the ice sheet could raise the sea level dramatically, the continued existence of the world’s great coastal cities — Miami, New York, Shanghai and many more — is tied to Antarctica’s fate.
The misinformation virus – Aeon
Misinformation isn’t new, of course. … What’s different today is the speed, scope and scale of misinformation, enabled by technology. Online media has given voice to previously marginalised groups, including peddlers of untruth, and has supercharged the tools of deception at their disposal. The transmission of falsehoods now spans a viral cycle in which AI, professional trolls and our own content-sharing activities help to proliferate and amplify misleading claims. These new developments have come on the heels of rising inequality, falling civic engagement and fraying social cohesion – trends that render us more susceptible to demagoguery. Just as alarming, a growing body of research over the past decade is casting doubt on our ability – even our willingness – to resist misinformation in the face of corrective evidence. […]
I’ve wondered recently if, like school violence, misinformation is becoming part of the culture, if it persists because some of us actively partake in it, and some merely stand by and allow it to continue. If that’s the case, then perhaps we ought to worry less about fixing people’s false beliefs and focus more on shifting those social norms that make it OK to create, spread, share and tolerate misinformation.
How about this for a mad theory? Can you even imagine asking this question?
Is it true? Can COVID-19 vaccines connect me to the internet? – Australian Government Department of Health
COVID-19 vaccines do not – and cannot – connect you to the internet. Some of the mRNA vaccines being developed include the use of a material called a hydrogel, which might help disperse the vaccine slowly into our cells. Bioengineers have used similar hydrogels for many years in different ways. For instance, they’ve used them to help stem cells survive after being put inside our bodies. Because of this, some people believe that hydrogels are needed for electronic implants, which can connect to the internet.
I don’t remember adding this to my YouTube ‘Watch Later’ playlist, but I’m glad I did. A charming documentary on a bizarre, elegant, yet absolutely enormous cloud.
Secrets of a Strange Cloud – YouTube
This is about the Morning Glory Cloud in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, Australia. It is an amazing atmospheric phenomenon. It is a shockwave which can be over a thousand kilometres long. Other meteorological terms for this type of formation is a shelf cloud, roll cloud or soliton. They can happen unpredictably in other places in the world but the Gulf of Carpentaria is the only location place where they happen with some degree of regularity around September and October.
Whilst we still have our heads in the clouds, ponder this strange notion — that we didn’t always know where birds went in the winter. They seemed to just vanish each year. Perhaps, rather than flying to different countries, they flew a little further.
When birds migrated to the Moon – The MIT Press Reader
Morton rejected Aristotle’s widely accepted hibernation theory, and pointed out a major flaw in the theory that the birds simply migrated to another place on Earth: No one in Europe knew where they went. They literally disappeared. He argued that returning birds, like woodcocks, appeared to drop suddenly from the sky over ships at sea.
Their round trip to the moon took one month each way, taking the distance to the moon and the length of their absence into account. There was no atmospheric resistance to impede their flight (so he had taken on board that much of Pascal’s conclusions) and the journey between the worlds was aided by lack of gravity. They slept for much of it, living off their body fat. It was all logical enough, in its own way.
You must read that article for its charming account of Domingo Gonsales flying to the Moon on his swan engine.
It’s a good job he didn’t try that trip a few hundred years earlier.
In 1110, the Moon vanished from the sky. We may finally know why – Science Alert
“On the fifth night in the month of May appeared the Moon shining bright in the evening, and afterwards by little and little its light diminished, so that, as soon as night came, it was so completely extinguished withal, that neither light, nor orb, nor anything at all of it was seen,” an observer wrote in the Peterborough Chronicle.
It was bright enough a week ago, spookily peering through the clouds, though this shot using my binoculars doesn’t do it justice.
Perhaps I need to take some pointers from the experts.
Taking good photos in bad light – Photography Life
When the sky is gray or the sun is directly overhead, it can be tough to find inspiration for high-quality photography. My hope with this article is to share some tips that have worked for me when I photograph in bad lighting conditions – something which every photographer experiences at some point.
There’s no cure for tinnitus yet, but that hasn’t stopped people claiming otherwise, with their ear candles and electroacupuncture. Some of these, such as ginkgo biloba and laser therapy, are positively harmful.
Examining tinnitus treatments – British Tinnitus Association
Some of the information you read will be about effective, evidence-based treatments. And some will be about treatments which haven’t even been tested. There may even be suggestions you try treatments that are dangerous. This page lists a number of treatments and gives our verdict on them.
The only one that can actually show evidence that it’s effective is cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT. Back in July, I mentioned a couple of studies that were investigating the use of iCBT chatbot apps to help with tinnitus. I got involved with one of them, and I’m really glad to see it being rolled out to a wider audience.
Tinnitus support in your pocket – British Tinnitus Association
We are very excited to be supporting the pre-release of Tinnibot, the first virtual coach which provides psychological support to tinnitus sufferers using evidence-based techniques including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness and sound therapy.
The app has an eight-week programme covering four categories: Knowledge is Power, Changing Perception, Relax and Meditate and Sleep Better. Tinnibot employs a range of CBT techniques including framing and reframing, goal setting, action planning and in the future, social support.
I certainly feel much more optimistic about it than this other approach I was reading about, “combining sound and electrical stimulation of the tongue.”
New research could help millions who suffer from ‘ringing in the ears’ – University of Minnesota
The tinnitus treatment device used in the study, now branded as Lenire®, was developed by Neuromod Devices and consists of wireless (Bluetooth®) headphones that deliver sequences of audio tones layered with wideband noise to both ears, combined with electrical stimulation pulses delivered to 32 electrodes on the tip of the tongue by a proprietary device trademarked as Tonguetip®. The timing, intensity, and delivery of the stimuli are controlled by an easy-to-use handheld controller that each participant is trained to operate. Before using the treatment for the first time, the device is configured to the patient’s hearing profile and optimized to the patient’s sensitivity level for tongue stimulation.
I think I’d rather have an ear candle!
The ‘herd immunity’ approach has been criticised from at least March (I still think this article from The Outline has my favourite heading and subheading), but it keeps being touted as an alternative to all these restrictions, a way to get back to normal.
There is no ‘scientific divide’ over herd immunity – Wired UK
There’s a lot of talk of scientists divided over Covid-19, but when you look at the evidence any so-called divide starts to evaporate.
Can we actually learn to live with coronavirus? Not until we have a vaccine – The Conversation
Take the example of smallpox – a very infectious, scary disease and the only human virus we have ever eradicated. Unlike COVID-19, people who caught the virus always showed symptoms, so they could be found and isolated. Anyone who did not die would have life-long protection. But we only completely rid the world of it through a coordinated vaccination campaign. This was the only way that high enough levels of protection could be achieved across the world to reach the threshold for herd immunity.
Time for some quick maths. As of today, there have been 635,000 cases of Covid-19 and 43,018 deaths in the UK. That’s a very rough mortality rate of 6.8%. The population of the UK is 66,650,000. Multiplying that by that mortality rate gets you a total of 4,532,200 deaths.
Over-simplified, yes, but still…
Photo Sebastiao Moreira
A while ago I shared a post about brainy music. Here’s some mindful music of a different kind.
Can biofeedback help to unlock the mysteries of music’s therapeutic effects? – Aeon Videos
The US musician and research scientist Grace Leslie works at the frontiers of biotechnology and experimental music. From her Brain Music Lab at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, Leslie and her students probe the physiological effects of sounds and rhythms, including how biofeedback could potentially be used to create new sonic therapies.
So can a mind sing? Filmmaker Vier Nev thinks so.
Staff Pick Award at Annecy 2020: “A Mind Sang” by Vier Nev – Vimeo Blog
Seeing a shape in the clouds, a face on Mars, or Jesus in your toast is called “pareidolia.” Our tendency to perceive objects, patterns, and meanings incorrectly is a psychological phenomenon filmmaker Vier Nev turned into hypnotizing art in his transfixing animated film, “A Mind Sang.” Leading the audience through themes of transformation, perspective, and rebirth, this work of art kept us visually engaged through each second of the film with stunning optical illusions and a haunting and rich musical score. (via Kottke)
That felt like an eye exam. Let’s have something more … relaxing?
Toccata – Optical Arts
The film is an exploration on the nature of time, the relentless violence of entropy and creative energy and its relationship to music itself. The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has a cinematic history going back to the silent film era, when orchestras played music to films. The piece became often used in the horror genre and famously as the opening to the 1970’s film Rollerball. (via Laughing Squid)
I love this, the slo-mo timing is perfect. Here’s some more.
Orchestra instruments captured in super slow motion – Laughing Squid
A performer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra demonstrated what the performance of a stand-up double bass looks like in super slow motion. The footage captures how the bow connects with and releases from the string in order to make beautiful music.
Careful with those bows.
Man in Japan arrested for attacking pedestrian with violin bow – Classic FM
The man, who was wielding a horsehair bow, was also reported to be holding a violin. He has no known address and is reported by police to have been intoxicated at the time of the incident.
Maybe he wasn’t a classical music fan. How about something light and carefree?
How the ‘Oh Yeah’ song in Ferris Bueller came to be – Great Big Story
“Oh Yeah.” You’ve heard this song—full of oh yeah, bow bow and ch-ch ch-ch ch-ka!—who knows how many times over the years. Recorded by the Swiss synth pop duo known as Yello, “Oh Yeah” became a pop culture phenomenon after being featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” In the 1986 movie, the percussive piece is the soundtrack to the scene where Cameron shows off his father’s prized Ferrari to his friend Bueller. And we all know what happened after that. (via Laughing Squid)
Or something just as poppy but perhaps less carefree?
A brilliant but appropriately anxiety-inducing animated video for the Sparks song ‘The Existential Threat’ – Laughing Squid
Cyriak Harris, the creative mind behind many wonderful surreral short films, created a brilliant but appropriately anxiety-inducing animated music video for the song “The Existential Threat” by the Los Angeles band Sparks, from their album “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip”.
Or some vintage rock?
Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” gets a video after 43 years – Boing Boing
On Thursday, on his Instagram account, Iggy Pop announced that, after a 43 year wait, his classic track, “The Passenger,” has a video.
Let’s end how we began, with something mindful. Kind of.
Buddhist monk performs a badass cover of the Judas Priest song ‘Breaking the Law’ on classic instruments – Laughing Squid
Buddhist monk Kossan1108, who does amazing, minimalist covers of classic rock songs with traditional instruments, performed a pretty badass cover of the classic Judas Priest song “Breaking the Law”. He used the wooden fish to keep the beat, a standing bell to add color and his own voice to cover the lyrics.
How we know what we know seems such a hazardous topic.
Anil Seth on why our senses are fine-tuned for utility, not for ‘reality’ – Aeon Videos
It’s easy to mistake our conscious experience for an ongoing, accurate account of reality. After all, the information we recover from our senses is, of course, the only window we’ll ever have into the outside world. And for most people most of the time, our perception certainly feels real. […]
Seth argues that it’s not just that our perceptions provide flawed accounts of the outside world, but that our brains aren’t in the business of recovering the outside world to begin with. So it’s more accurate to think of our conscious experience as a series of predictions that we’re incessantly and subconsciously fine-tuning – a world we build from the inside out, rather than the outside in.
And here, with plenty of visual illusions to illustrate the point, is another take on the same issue.
“Reality” is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters. – Vox
“The dirty little secret about sensory systems is that they’re slow, they’re lagged, they’re not about what’s happening right now but what’s happening 50 milliseconds ago, or, in the case for vision, hundreds of milliseconds ago,” says Adam Hantman, a neuroscientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus.
If we relied solely on this outdated information, though, we wouldn’t be able to hit baseballs with bats, or swat annoying flies away from our faces. We’d be less coordinated, and possibly get hurt more often.
So the brain predicts the path of motion before it happens. It tells us a story about where the object is heading, and this story becomes our reality. […]
In Hantman’s view, what we experience as consciousness is primarily the prediction, not the real-time feed. The actual sensory information, he explains, just serves as error correction. “If you were always using sensory information, errors would accumulate in ways that would lead to quite catastrophic effects on your motor control,” Hantman says. Our brains like to predict as much as possible, then use our senses to course-correct when the predictions go wrong.
Featured image Sebastián Navarro
I have to admit this Plandemic conspiracy theory has somewhat passed me by. It sounds bonkers, to say the least.
Fact-checking Judy Mikovits, the controversial virologist attacking Anthony Fauci in a viral conspiracy video – Science
Mikovits: Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions, and if it happens to be SARS-CoV-2, then you’ve got a big problem.
It’s not clear what Mikovits means by “coronavirus expressions.” There is no evidence that wearing a mask can activate viruses and make people sick.
Mikovits: Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand. You’ve got healing microbes in the ocean in the salt water. That’s insanity.
It’s not clear what Mikovits means by sand or soil “sequences.” There is no evidence that microbes in the ocean can heal COVID-19 patients.
It’s worrying how mainstream these ludicrous conspiracies are becoming.
The Plandemic conspiracy has a wild new fan club: Facebook moms – Wired UK
Across Facebook, the Plandemic video was shared on hundreds of community groups. Its appearance was often incongruous, akin to the conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. turning up uninvited to your village’s summer barbecue and telling everyone that vaccines are going to kill their children. The spread of the conspiracy theory on otherwise banal community groups reveals a perilous new reality: one where the coronavirus pandemic has taken dangerous, fringe views and planted them firmly in the minds of scores of ordinary people. And, as with the anti-vaccination movement, the Plandemic conspiracy theory has resonated particularly strongly amongst women – often young mothers. […]
The unprecedented success of the Plandemic video is part of a growing trend: of conspiracy theorists using the coronavirus pandemic to seek out ever larger audiences. For this to work, they have changed tack. While poorly-produced, hour-long rant videos and clumsy memes still persist, the Plandemic was notable for its higher production values. This added slickness is central to efforts to attract new believers. And it’s working.
The video’s long gone now, taken down in an attempt to stop the spread of misinformation. But even that’s not straightforward.
[T]he messaging around the Plandemic was designed for it to be censored – Mikovits, so the conspiracy theory went, had been silenced, now she was speaking out, but soon the big technology platforms would censor her again. The big technology platforms dutifully obliged, not by limiting the spread of the conspiracy theory but by simply deleting it. This created the perfect storm – a Streisand effect that boosted the conspiracy theory still further.
It may feel like a US-only problem, but that’s far from the case, sadly. Here’s another Wired UK article from earlier this year, before our current lockdown had properly begun. Facebook, again.
How Facebook turned into a coronavirus conspiracy hellhole – Wired UK
The posts, which are filling innocuous Facebook groups normally dedicated to political discussions and flight deals, are a strange evolution of conspiracy theories that have been knocking around the internet for years. One much-mooted theory, for example, is that the coronavirus has been caused by radiation from 5G masts. […]
Other Facebook groups keen on coronavirus conspiracies include “We Support Jeremy Corbyn”, “I’M A BREXITEER” and the “Jacob Rees-Mogg Appreciation Group”, with hundreds of posts and tens of thousands of reactions. These posts incorporate political conspiracies – for instance, one post on the “We Support Jeremy Corbyn Facebook” group, states that “people have bugs like this all the time, the media are basically covering up the economic global crash which is coming and also the Brexit shit show.”
It’s easy to feel despondent, reading all this — we’re just too stupid to help ourselves, we’re going to get the future we deserve. But it’s important to remember that, however noisy all these
scared stupid bigoted idiots people are, and however much attention the media gives them, the vast majority of us are sensible and keeping it together. Right?
Coronavirus, ‘Plandemic’ and the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking – The Conversation
Understanding and revealing the techniques of conspiracy theorists is key to inoculating yourself and others from being misled, especially when we are most vulnerable: in times of crises and uncertainty.
In this age of 24-hour, panic-driven, conflict-addictive news content designed just to be clicked on, glanced at and forgotten, here’s an archive of journalism worth spending some time with.
The Stacks Reader
The Stacks Reader is an online collection of classic journalism and writing about the arts that would otherwise be lost to history. Motivated less by nostalgia than by preservation, The Stacks Reader is a living archive of memorable storytelling—a museum for stories. We celebrate writers, highlight memorable publications, honor notable personalities, and produce interviews with writers and editors and illustrators in the hope of offering compelling insight into how journalism worked, particularly in the second half of the 20th Century.
For those of you with a little more time on your hands, perhaps you want to settle down with a good book.
Internet Archive’s ‘national emergency library’ has over a million books to read right now – CNET
The Internet Archive will suspend its waiting lists for digital copies of books, as part of its National Emergency Library. “Users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized,” the organization said in a blog post last week.
The decision comes as schools around the country are shut down in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and as it’s become more difficult to get goods of all kinds. The post noted that many people can’t physically go to their local libraries these days.
More open eBooks: routinizing open access eBook workflows – The Signal
We are excited to share that anyone anywhere can now access a growing online collection of contemporary open access eBooks from the Library of Congress website. For example, you can now directly access books such as Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks, and Youjeong Oh’s Pop City: Korean Popular Culture and the Selling of Place from the Library of Congress website. All of these books have been made broadly available online in keeping with the intent of their creators and publishers, which chose to publish these works under open access licenses.
Or if you fancy something older and more visual, check out this remarkable archive from the Cambridge Digital Library.
There’s so much in here, I’m having trouble deciding what to highlight.
Newton Papers – Cambridge Digital Library
Cambridge University Library is pleased to present the first items in its Foundations of Science collection: a selection from the Papers of Sir Isaac Newton. The Library holds the most important and substantial collection of Newton’s scientific and mathematical manuscripts and over the next few months we intend to make most of our Newton papers available on this site.
Sassoon Journals – Cambridge Digital Library
The notebooks kept by the soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) during his service in the British Army in the First World War are among the most remarkable documents of their kind, and provide an extraordinary insight into his participation in one of the defining conflicts of European history.
It’s not all scans of historic documents, however.
Department of Engineering Photography competition – Cambridge Digital Library
The annual Department of Engineering photo competition highlights the variety and beauty of engineering. For many people, engineering conjures up images of bridges, tunnels and buildings. But the annual University of Cambridge engineering photo competition shows that not only is engineering an incredibly diverse field, it’s a beautiful one too.
Christian Hoecker – Carbon Nanotube Web – Cambridge Digital Library
This fibrous material is made of self-assembled carbon nanotubes. The diameter of each nanotube is more than a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Yes, it’s another post about that virus, but these two articles about it are a little different.
Scientists translate the novel coronavirus structure into beautiful music – Boing Boing
Translating abstract scientific data into sound can give researchers new insight into the complexities of the phenomena they are studying. MIT materials science professor and musician Markus Buehler, who has employed this technique to understand biological materials and develop new proteins, has now transformed the novel coronavirus into music.
Dazzling coronavirus painting by biologist David Goodsell – Kottke
“You have to admit, these viruses are so symmetrical that they’re beautiful,” said Mr. Goodsell, an associate professor at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. “Are bright colors and pretty stuff the right approach? The jury’s still out. I’m not trying to make these things look dangerous, I want people to understand how they’re built.”
Here’s another way of visualising the numbers connected with the coronavirus.
Just how contagious is COVID-19? This chart puts it in perspective – Popular Science
One quantity scientists use to measure how a disease spreads through a population is the “basic reproduction number,” otherwise known as R0 (pronounced “R naught,” or, if you hate pirates, “arr not”). This number tells us how many people, on average, each infected person will in turn infect. While it doesn’t tell us how deadly an epidemic is, R0 is a measure of how infectious a new disease is, and helps guide epidemic control strategies implemented by governments and health organizations.
If R0 is less than 1, the disease will typically die out: Each infected person has a low chance of passing the infection along to even one additional individual. An R0 larger than 1 means each sick person infects at least one other person on average, who then could infect others, until the disease spreads through the population. For instance, a typical seasonal flu strain has an R0 of around 1.2, which means for every five infected people, the disease will spread to six new people on average, who pass it along to others.
Here’s more on that.
What is the coronavirus’s R0 and why does it matter? – Life Hacker
R0 is one of the numbers epidemiologists use to describe how an infectious agent spreads through a population. But it’s important to remember that it’s simply a statistic that describes some of the numbers we see. It’s not a rating of how scary a virus is, nor does it dictate how deadly a disease is or how difficult it might be to contain. We need more information for that.
And another way of comparing such things, from 2014.
Visualised: how Ebola compares to other infectious diseases – The Guardian
Every disease has a basic reproduction number but the numbers are scattered across the literature. We’ve web-crawled and gathered them all here in one graphic, plotting them against the average case fatality rate – the % of infectees who die. This hopefully gives us a data-centric way to understand the most infectious and deadly diseases and contextualise current events.
Using trees to make paper to write on, I get that. But writing with trees? Katie Holten, an artist-in-residency with NYC Parks, has developed a typeface to allow us to do just that. (via Futility Closet)
NYC is planting secret messages in parks using this typeface for trees – Fast Company
It would be fair to say that Holten is at least a little obsessed with turning trees into typefaces. Back in 2015, she developed her first so-called Tree Alphabet, made up of sketches of 26 different trees that each stood for its own letter. The project led her to publish a book, About Trees, typed in forests rather than paragraphs. “I’m interested in creating something that lets us translate our words into something beyond us,” writes Holten over email. “It forces us to slow down and think about what we’re writing, or reading.”
To see the typeface in action, head over to nyctrees.org and try it for yourself.
New York City Trees
The New York City Tree Alphabet is an alphabetical planting palette, allowing us to rewrite the urban landscape by planting messages around the city with real trees. What messages would you like to see planted?
These messages aside, it seems the trees are busy communicating by themselves.
The fascinating science of how trees communicate, animated – Brain Pickings
But trees are much more than what they are to us, or for us, or in relation to us. They are relational miracles all their own, entangled in complex, symbiotic webs of interbeing, constantly communicating with one another through chemical signals dispatched along the fungal networks that live in their roots — an invisible, astonishing underworld only recently discovered, thanks to the work of Canadian forest ecologist Suzanne Simard.
Here’s a new tool, updated daily, to help us visualise the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
[H]eadlines can be hard to interpret. How fast is the virus spreading? Are efforts to control the disease working? How does the situation compare with previous epidemics? This site is updated daily based on the number of confirmed cases reported by the WHO. By looking beyond the daily headlines, we hope it is possible to get a deeper understanding of this unfolding epidemic.
You can overlay the data from previous epidemics, too, as this summary from The Conversation explains.
Coronavirus outbreak: a new mapping tool that lets you scroll through timeline – The Conversation
Comparisons with other recent outbreaks are also revealing. At one end of the spectrum, the 2014 Ebola epidemic can be distinguished by its devastating virulence (killing nearly 40% of the 28,600 people infected) but narrow geographic range (the virus was largely confined to three countries in West Africa). On the other hand, the 2009 swine flu pandemic was far less virulent (with an estimated mortality rate of less than 0.1%), but reached every corner of the globe.
A very useful resource. This is exactly the kind of context our news needs to be providing.
|Cases||Deaths||Countries affected||Case fatality rate|
|2009 H1N1 (swine flu)||60,800,000||18,499||214||0.1%|
Thanks to China’s fast response, are we about to turn the corner?
A ray of hope in the coronavirus curve – The Economist
Trying to forecast the trajectory of a new virus is complex, with scant initial information about how infectious it is. Several scientists made valiant attempts based on early data from China. Some warned that it might not peak until May, but that was before China implemented strict containment measures. The more pessimistic ones now look too gloomy. Cheng-Chih Hsu, a chemist at National Taiwan University, plugged different scenarios into a simple model for estimating the spread of epidemics (the incidence of daily infections typically resemble bell curves, with slightly fatter tails as transmissions peter out). The tally of confirmed cases so far closely fits a seemingly optimistic forecast by Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese respiratory expert, who said on January 28th that transmissions would peak within two weeks.
The end can’t come soon enough.
The coronavirus is the first true social-media “infodemic” – MIT Technology Review
On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” It’s a distinction that sets the coronavirus apart from previous viral outbreaks. While SARS, MERS, and Zika all caused global panic, fears around the coronavirus have been especially amplified by social media. It has allowed disinformation to spread and flourish at unprecedented speeds, creating an environment of heightened uncertainty that has fueled anxiety and racism in person and online.
I’ve updated the figures in the table above, using data from the tracker. Whilst the numbers of new cases in China is slowing down, they’re increasing everywhere else. And so too is the fatality rate, worryingly.
And still climbing.
The extent of the wildfires in Australia recently has been heartbreaking, even if some of the images that were doing the rounds were a little ambiguous.
Australia fires: Misleading maps and pictures go viral – BBC News
One image shared widely by Twitter users, including by singer Rihanna, was interpreted as a map showing the live extent of fire spread, with large sections of the Australian coastline molten-red and fiery.
But it is actually artist Anthony Hearsey’s visualisation of one month of data of locations where fire was detected, collected by Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System.
“The scale is a little exaggerated due to the render’s glow, but it is generally true to the info from the Nasa website. Also note that not all the areas are still burning, and this is a compilation,” Mr Hearsey wrote on Instagram in response to criticism by viewers that the image was misleading.
But is this just a taste of things to come?
Analysis confirms that climate change is making wildfires worse – New Scientist
In light of the ongoing wildfire crisis in Australia, Richard Betts at the UK Met Office in Exeter and his colleagues reviewed 57 peer-reviewed studies about the link between climate change and wildfire risk.
All the studies found that climate change increases the frequency or severity of fire-favourable weather conditions.
The review found that fire weather seasons have lengthened globally between 1979 and 2013. Fire weather generally involves hot temperatures, low humidity, low rainfall in the preceding days and weeks, and windy conditions.
Do carbon offsets really work? It depends on the details – Wired
[S]ome critics worry the programs are an excuse to not take tougher measures to curb climate change. If not done right, the purchase of offsets can act as a marketing campaign that ends up providing cover for companies’ climate-harming practices.
When a company buys offsets, it helps fund projects elsewhere to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as planting trees in Indonesia or installing giant machines inside California dairies that suck up the methane produced by burping and farting cows and turn it into a usable biofuel. What offsets don’t do is force their buyer to change any of its operations. […]
“What would JetBlue have done if they couldn’t buy offsets?” Haya says. “Would they have put money into efficiency of the planes, or invested in future biofuels to create a long-term alternative to fossil fuels? That’s the fundamental question we have to ask for voluntary offsets: How much is it taking the place of real long-term solutions?”
Well I, at least, can take a positive spin on this.
The mid-life crisis is real, study suggests, as economist pinpoints age of peak misery as 47.2 – The Telegraph
“Something very natural is going on here… maybe there’s something in the genes,” he said. “When you have this pattern in 132 countries, the reality is, it was really hard to not find it.”
In his paper entitled: ‘Is happiness U-shaped everywhere?’ and published yesterday by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER), Professor Blanchflower said that averaging across 257 individual country estimates from developing countries gives an age minimum of 48.2 for well-being, and doing the same across the 187 country estimates for advanced countries gives a similar minimum of 47.2.
As a 47.8 year old, I’ve officially passed the nadir so can look forward to a continuing surge in happiness levels from now on!
Just parking this opposing article here, in case I need to refer to it later…
How to stave off depression in later life – Patient
Whether it’s moving from work into retirement or dealing with the loss of a loved one, it’s evident that the stresses and feelings of isolation in later life can take their toll. And it may come as little surprise that nearly half of all adults aged 55 and over said they had experienced depression, according to a recent survey by Age UK.
That really faint noise? For me, it’s a quiet, high-frequency tone that seems to be coming from the centre of my head. For that guy in Arizona, it was a low-pitched drone coming from a neighbouring data centre. But these other unexplained low-frequency rumbles, heard around the world, could be much more elemental.
Ear-pleasing new report confirms volcanic source of mysterious global hum – Syfy Wire
Now a German scientific team has apparently solved the mystery of a strange seismic humming experienced around the globe since it was first detected in late 2018. And despite many believing it was some alien doomsday device warming up to unleash its planet-killing spores, it appears to be caused by a massive underwater volcano forming just off the coast of Madagascar.
They say you learn something new every day. Here are some of the things Tom Whitwell learnt in a year.
- Since the 1960s, British motorways have been deliberately designed by computer as series of long curves, rather than straight lines. This is done for both safety (less hypnotic) and aesthetic (“sculpture on an exciting, grand scale”) reasons. [Joe Moran]
Ah, motorways, “the twentieth century’s equivalent of the pyramids”.
- Gravitricity is a Scottish startup planning to store energy by lifting huge weights up a disused mine shaft when electricity is cheap, dropping them down to generate power when it is expensive. Using a 12,000 tonne weight (roughly the weight of the Eiffel tower), it should be half as expensive as equivalent lithium ion battery. [Jillian Ambrose]
Such a simple idea, though something about it reminds me of those perpetual motion contraptions.
- CD sales still make up 78% of music revenue in Japan (compared with less than 30% in the UK). Japanese pop fans have been encouraged to buy multiple copies of their favourite releases to win rewards (buy 2,000 copies, win a night at a hot spring with your favourite star). One 32 year-old fan was charged with illegally dumping 585 copies of a CD on the side of a mountain. [Mark Mulligan]
You really must follow the link to that one and read more about the incredibly bizarre and manipulative marketing practices going on there. It beggars belief.
This next one reminds me of that xkcd comic about Bobby Tables.
- A man who bought the personalised number plate NULL has received over $12,000 of parking fines, because the system records ‘NULL’ when no numberplate has been recorded. [Jack Morse]
Here’s one for Borges and his friend Funes the Memorious.
- SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is a rare syndrome where otherwise healthy, high-functioning people are unable to remember events from their own life. There is also an exhausting syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where people can remember precise details about every single day of their life. [Palumbo & Alain]
And I’m sure this one applies this side of the Atlantic too, as we head into the last few days of general election polling.
- “Polling by phone has become very expensive, as the number of Americans willing to respond to unexpected or unknown callers has dropped. In the mid-to-late-20th century response rates were as high as 70%… [falling to] a mere 6% of the people it tried to survey in 2018.” [The Economist]