Thursday, March 4, 2021

How did I Not Know About This?

I'm familiar with the fact that scientists are generally a quite humorous bunch, but how did I not know about the annual competition to portray one's doctoral thesis through...

...interpretive dance.


This is absolutely awesome and I need to watch these videos when I don't have as much work.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Delayed Gratification

 You're at the party, but it would be rude to reach for the treats just yet.

Humans show the ability to delay gratification. We can turn down inferior food because we know superior food is coming. For example, leaving space for dessert.

A lot of animals can't do that. Delayed gratification as a foraging behavior is limited to "higher" animals, and is demonstrated in great apes (and some other primates), parrots, corvids.

We test for this using the marshmallow test. In 1972, we studied a bunch of kids to see just how long they were willing to ignore one pretzel on the promise of two, to see when self control develops in children. (It supposedly also proved that more self control equals a better life, but larger studies showed it isn't a significant effect). Not being able to wait is a symptom of ADHD.

Now we have added a new animal to the list of species able to pass the marshmallow test: Cuttlefish.


A non-social, non-tool using invertebrate. The theory is that while social species practice delayed gratification to improve social bonds, cuttlefish have learned it so that they can prioritize not being eaten over snatching food right then.

Of course, cephalopods are pretty intelligent. There's a reason I don't eat calamari.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Neanderthal Grunts?

 Not quite!

A recent study showed that unlike an early hominid, Sima, Neanderthals had a hearing system that is particularly sensitive in a certain bandwidth...

...the one used by speech. Specifically, it shows that Neanderthals had hearing designed to pick up on consonants (If you listen to chimpanzees vocalize, they only produce vowels).

The scientists caution that it doesn't move that they had the ability to understand speech, only the physical anatomy to hear and produce it.

But it seems to me as if those two things had to go hand in hand.

(Plus, why would we have interbred with people we couldn't communicate with to at least some degree?)

Monday, March 1, 2021

Golden Globes

 It's that time of year (I've been furiously reading for Nebula and Hugo nominations).

Well, it's two months late because COVID, but we finally have Golden Globe winners.

In Best Television - Drama, The Crown beat out Lovecraft Country and The Mandalorian.

Musical or Comedy was, no surprise here, Schitt's Creek.

Limited Series, Anthology Series or Motion Picture Made for Television was also no surprise. It was that crazy chess series The Queen's Gambit. (Not genre, but all my genre buddies were into it).

Everything else was non-genre stuff in a year that really will go down as "exceptionally weak" for obvious reasons.

2021 might look quite different.

(Also, CBS, you use italics for shows and movies, "s are for individual episodes. This is not that hard).

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday Updates

So, John  Paul Catton of Excalibur Books interviewed me about Lost Guardians and my writing process. You can read the interview here.

That's all I have in the venue of actual news.

Get vaccinated when you can. Please.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Yes, Our Ancestors Swung Around

 In the 19th-century, anatomists decided (those who believed in evolution) that we and the other apes descended from a common ancestor that swung through the trees.

Brachiation is used by chimpanzees and bonobos, and gibbons are highly evolved for it (extremely evolved in fact).

But more recently somebody tried to argue that we ran along the top of branches. On the face of it, this is ridiculous. There's a thing you need to do that safely that most apes lost a long time ago, namely a tail.

Without a tail, it's really hard to do that. Probably why sloths, who also lack a tail, prefer to move along the underside.

Now somebody's looked at a hand of an ancestor and come to the conclusion that we were right the first time. We probably swung around, and that gave us the beginnings of the bipedal stance and the ability to lift our arms all the way up...quadrupeds generally can't do that.

Dunno why it was even an argument, but it seems to be settled.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Wonderful Issue of Martian Dust

 One of the biggest problems for Martian colonists is likely to be dust. The fine dust of Mars is going to get everywhere. Without precautions, this will include the inside of your lungs, probably resulting in something similar to black lung or asbestosis over time.

But there's a couple of other issues too. During the Dust Bowl, people would hug...and there would be so much static electricity in the air that they would knock each other out. Given Martian dust creates sufficient static to result in dry lightning, it's fairly clear this will also be the issue.

Finally, there's landing on Mars. If you haven't watched the Perseverance landing video, go do so. Watch at the 20 meter mark.

Look at the sheer amount of dust being kicked up by the sky crane's thrusters. As Mars doesn't have enough atmosphere, likely, for a horizontal landing or takeoff, this is going to be a problem for everyone landing on Mars, whether coming in from orbit or flying between settlements.

You ain't landing on visual. Landing a craft on Mars is going to be by instrument, with all the extra challenges that creates.

(I think this supports my implication in Transpecial that passenger transit on Mars is mostly by maglev...)

(Also, could all that static electricity be harvested somehow?)