21 May 2018

Wisteria


The (unquestioned) beauty is deceptive.  Multiple comments at the Pics subreddit post attest to the destructive capabilities of Wisteria vines.

Panspermia and the Cambrian Explosion


"Panspermia" ("seeds everywhere") is the term used for the concept that life in various forms is widespread throughout the cosmos, and that extremophiles can survive transit through space to colonize new worlds.

The "Cambrian Explosion" occurred about 500 million years ago, when multicellular life skyrocketed on earth.  Prior to that time, life on this planet consisted almost entirely of single-celled or colonial organisms.  During this 20-million year period most of the lines of animals appeared, with major diversifications and accelerated complexity.

Those two concepts are discussed in the most interesting scientific review article I've read all month.  Herewith some excerpts from the longread:
"... we discuss the recent phylogenetic data which date the emergence of the complex retroviruses of vertebrate lines at or just before the Cambrian Explosion of ∼500 Ma (the widely agreed epochal event in the evolutionary history of multicellular life on Earth). These types of reverse transcribing and genome integrating viruses are speculated to be plausibly associated with major evolutionary genomic processes. We believe this coincidence with the Cambrian Explosion may not be fortuitous...

... life was seeded here on Earth by life-bearing comets as soon as conditions on Earth allowed it to flourish (at or just before 4.1 Billion years ago); and living organisms such as space-resistant and space-hardy bacteria, viruses, more complex eukaryotic cells and organisms (e.g. Tardigrades), perhaps even fertilised ova and plant seeds, may have been continuously delivered ever since to Earth helping to drive further the progress of terrestrial biological evolution...

Even if we concede that the dominant neo-Darwinian paradigm of natural selection can explain aspects of the evolutionary history of life once life gets started, independent abiogenesis on the cosmologically diminutive scale of oceans, lakes or hydrothermal vents remains a hypothesis with no empirical support and is moreover unnecessary and redundant...

... direct evidence of liquid water in comets as well as other icy solar system bodies came to be firmly established through space exploration. The Jovian moon Europa, the Saturnian moon Enceladus and the dwarf planet Ceres all have evidence of liquid water, maintained either through tidal energy dissipation or radioactive heating. ..

It is now becoming amply clear that Earth-like planets and other life-friendly planetary bodies exist in their hundreds of billions...

Since 1980 the existence in interstellar clouds of complex organic molecules such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, is beyond dispute...

Data from cometary studies continue to be backed up by recoveries of microbial material in the stratosphere (under conditions where upwelling terrestrial contamination can be plausibly ruled out)...

We should then plausibly view viruses as among the most information-rich natural systems in the known Universe. Their size dictates they are very small targets minimizing the probability of destruction by flash heating or ionizing radiation... Their nanometer dimensions plausibly allow easy transport and dispersal by micrometer sized dust grains and other protective physical matrices of similar size. They are then nanoparticle-sized genetic vectors which contain all the essential information to take over and drive the physiology of any given target cell within which they mesh. Their replicative growth means they are produced, and exist, in huge numbers on cosmic scales; so that they (and to a lesser quantitative extent their cellular reservoirs) can suffer huge losses by inactivation while still leaving a residue of millions of surviving particles potentially still infective. A virus then is a type of compressed module in touch with the whole of the cell's very ability to grow and divide to produce progeny cells and thus to evolve...

Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods. The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens ...

Thus the possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted (below) as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus' sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. Indeed this principle applies to the sudden appearance in the fossil record of pretty well all major life forms, covered in the prescient concept of “punctuated equilibrium”...

This now leads us to the crux and an important take home lesson of this review. While all viruses, when looked at closely, are exceedingly clever, the Retroviruses (family Retroviridiae) are up there with the most sophisticated and compact of all known viruses. These viruses and their elements (reverse transcriptase enzymes, associated with induced mobile retro-elements) now appear to be important viral-drivers of major evolutionary genetic change on Earth over the past few hundred million years ...

It is well known that a mass extinction event, or events, occurred at the end of the Ediacaran period about 542 million years ago. This was the immediate forerunner of the Cambrian explosion and the mass extinction scale suggests the passage of our Solar System through a Giant Molecular Cloud dislodging multiple long period Oort Cloud comets into the inner Solar System setting up impacts with the Earth... It takes little imagination to consider that the pre-Cambrian mass extinction event(s) was correlated with the impact of a giant life-bearing comet (or comets), and the subsequent seeding of Earth with new cosmic-derived cellular organisms and viral genes...

It goes without saying that Tardigrades, micro-segmented tiny eukaryotic animals, which emerged in the Cambrian period pose a serious challenge to traditional neo-Darwinian thinking...
Note: Appendix A to the paper discusses the theory of panspermia as it relates to the existence of a deity as ultimate progenitor for the creation of life.


Top image via The Carbon Pilgrim.   Bottom image via Yale Scientific.

You're right! He does look like Sir Patrick Stewart.


Found at the Pareidolia subreddit.

Baby's hand mummified by copper coin

The remains are currently on display at Hungary’s Móra Ferenc Museum.

From inspecting the tiny skeleton, Dr. Balázs determined the deceased was either a stillbirth or premature baby that died shortly after birth. The researchers concluded the child was 11 to 13 inches and weighed only one or two pounds...

The team concluded that before the child was placed in the pot and buried, someone put the copper coin into its hand. Many cultures in antiquity have buried their dead with coins as a way to pay a mythical ferryman to take their souls into the afterlife.

In this case, the copper’s antimicrobial properties protected the child’s hand from decay. Along with the conditions inside the vessel, it helped mummify the baby’s grasp. The team thinks this child’s burial may be one of the first reported cases in the scientific literature of copper-driven mummification. 
The rest of the story is at The New York Times.

Suburban lawns as ecological wastelands


Excerpts from a rant at Earther:
Americans devote 70 hours, annually, to pushing petrol-powered spinning death blades over aggressively pointless green carpets to meet an embarrassingly destructive beauty standard based on specious homogeneity. We marvel at how verdant we manage to make our overwatered, chemical-soaked, ecologically-sterile backyards...

“Continual amputation is a critical part of lawn care. Cutting grass regularly—preventing it from reaching up and flowering — forces it to sprout still more blades, more rhizomes, more roots, to become an ever more impenetrable mat until it is what its owner has worked so hard or paid so much to have: the perfect lawn, the perfect sealant through which nothing else can grow—and the perfect antithesis of an ecological system.”..

Up until the 1940s, we at least left odd flowers like clovers—which actually add nitrogen back to soil—alone. Then we figured out how to turn petrochemicals into fertilizer, Windhager said. “The new goal became to have a full monoculture.”..

According to the EPA, we use 580 million gallons of gas each year, in lawnmowers that emit as much pollution in one hour as 40 automobiles driving— accounting for roughly 10 to 18 percent of non-road gasoline emissions...

All America’s farmland consumes 88.5 million acre feet of water a year. Lawns, with a fraction of the land, drink an estimated two-thirds as much. Most municipalities use 30-60 percent of drinkable water on lawns.
Suggestions at the link regarding how to cope with neighborhood associations.

Clever analogy

19 May 2018

(no headline)


Polyurea flooring


If any readers have resurfaced a garage or interior floor with polyurea, I'd appreciate your thoughts (positive/negative) in the Comments.  Thanks in advance.

The surprising etymology of "miniature"

I was listening to a segment of the PBS series "Civilizations" and was startled to hear an art historian mention in passing that the word "miniature" is used by professionals to refer to the colors used in a work of art rather than to its size.

An Oxford University Press webpage explains:
It only makes sense that this word miniature would derive from the Latin word minimum, meaning “the smallest.”  It only makes sense, but it’s wrong.

Miniature is one of those strange words that has an etymology that defies logic. The actual truth is that before things that were tiny were called miniature, a certain kind of small portrait was called a miniature.

Before that, the art of illuminating those beautiful letters and figures in hand reproduced .
ancient books was called miniaire in Italian.

This miniaire art was in turn named for the red color that was especially popular for use in producing this art.

The red color was usually produced by use of a red kind of lead and it was the Latin name of this red lead that gave the color its name because the lead was called minium.

Thus etymologically, miniature and minimum actually don’t even have a small relationship with each other.
Lots more at Wikipedia.
The word miniature, derived from the Latin minium, red lead, is a small illustration used to decorate an ancient or medieval illuminated manuscript; the simple illustrations of the early codices having been miniated or delineated with that pigment. The generally small scale of the medieval pictures has led secondly to an etymological confusion of the term with minuteness...

Sierra Leone is the roundest country


Sierra Leone maps.  Via the Map Porn subreddit.

This modern world



Via BoingBoing.

The role of baby-boomers in America's decline

Excerpts from a longread:
Lately, most Americans, regardless of their political leanings, have been asking themselves some version of the same question: How did we get here? How did the world’s greatest democracy and economy become a land of crumbling roads, galloping income inequality, bitter polarization and dysfunctional government?

.. the celebrated American economic-mobility engine is sputtering. For adults in their 30s, the chance of earning more than their parents dropped to 50% from 90% just two generations earlier. The American middle class, once an aspirational model for the world, is no longer the world’s richest... too few basic services seem to work as they should. America’s airports are an embarrassment, and a modern air-traffic control system is more than 25 years behind its original schedule. The power grid, roads and rails are crumbling, pushing the U.S. far down international rankings for infrastructure quality. Despite spending more on health care and K-12 education per capita than most other developed countries, health care outcomes and student achievement also rank in the middle or worse globally. Among the 35 OECD countries, American children rank 30th in math proficiency and 19th in science...

...many of the most talented, driven Americans used what makes America great–the First Amendment, due process, financial and legal ingenuity, free markets and free trade, meritocracy, even democracy itself–to chase the American Dream. And they won it, for themselves. Then, in a way unprecedented in history, they were able to consolidate their winnings, outsmart and co-opt the forces that might have reined them in, and pull up the ladder so more could not share in their success or challenge their primacy...

The result is a new, divided America. On one side are the protected few – the winners – who don’t need government for much and even have a stake in sabotaging the government’s responsibility to all of its citizens. For them, the new, broken America works fine, at least in the short term. An understaffed IRS is a plus for people most likely to be the target of audits. Underfunded customer service at the Social Security Administration is irrelevant to those not living week to week, waiting for their checks... On the other side are the unprotected many. They may be independent and hardworking, but they look to their government to preserve their way of life and maybe even improve it. The unprotected need the government to provide good public schools so that their children have a chance to advance. They need a level competitive playing field for their small businesses, a fair shake in consumer disputes and a realistic shot at justice in the courts...

The protected need few of these common goods. They don’t have to worry about underperforming public schools, dilapidated mass-transit systems or jammed Social Security hotlines. They have accountants and lawyers who can negotiate their employment contracts or deal with consumer disputes, assuming they want to bother. They see labor or consumer-protection laws, and fair tax codes, as threats to their winnings–which they have spent the last 50 years consolidating by eroding these common goods and the government that would provide them.

That, rather than a split between Democrats and Republicans, is the real polarization that has broken America since the 1960s. It’s the protected vs. the unprotected, the common good vs. maximizing and protecting the elite winners’ winnings...

 “American meritocracy has thus become precisely what it was invented to combat,” Markovits concluded, “a mechanism for the dynastic transmission of wealth and privilege across generations. Meritocracy now constitutes a modern-day aristocracy.” 
Much more at the Time magazine source.

Barehanded


This was a signature moment in public health awareness, when in 1987 Princess Diana was photographed shaking hands with an AIDS patient while not wearing gloves. 
In April 1987, Princess Diana opened the UK's first purpose built HIV/Aids unit that exclusively cared for patients infected with the virus, at London Middlesex Hospital.
In front of the world's media, Princess Diana shook the hand of a man suffering with the illness.
She did so without gloves, publicly challenging the notion that HIV/Aids was passed from person to person by touch
More at the BBC.  Photo via.

17 May 2018

A "rat king", two "squirrel kings" -- and three bucks

"Rat kings are cryptozoological phenomena said to arise when a number of rats become intertwined at their tails, which become stuck together with blood, dirt, and excrement. The animals consequently grow together while joined at the tails, which are often broken. The phenomenon is particularly associated with Germany, where the majority of instances have been reported...

Most researchers presume the creatures are legendary and that all supposed physical evidence is hoaxed, such as mummified groups of dead rats with their tails tied together. Reports of living specimens remain unsubstantiated

Specimens of purported rat kings are kept in some museums. The museum Mauritianum in Altenburg (Thuringia) shows the largest well-known mummified "rat king", which was found in 1828 in a miller's fireplace at Buchheim [above]. It consists of 32 rats. Alcohol-preserved rat kings are shown in museums in Hamburg, Hamelin, Göttingen, and Stuttgart. A rat king found in 1930 in New Zealand, displayed in the Otago Museum in Dunedin, was composed of immature Rattus rattus whose tails were entangled by horse hair.

The term rat king has often led to the misconception of a king of rats... The Nutcracker, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, adapts a tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann that features a seven-headed Mouse King as the villain..."
Image and text from Wikipedia. Credit to Neatorama.

Addendum #1:  Reposted to add this example of a "squirrel king" -
The Animal Clinic of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, got a surprise this week when a city worker brought in six squirrels fused together by their tails...


This particular group of six were nesting near a pine tree and sap fused their tails together. A city of Regina worker found the young squirrels and brought them to the clinic. The animals were sedated and the veterinarian team worked to untangle the mess of tails. Their tails were then shaved of the matted fur and they were given antibiotics to prevent infection.  (Via Nothing to do with Arbroath)

Addendum #2:  Reposted in order to add this related interesting phenomenon found by my wife at the Buck Manager website:

[T]hese three white-tailed bucks were found locked during the rut. The bucks were located on a ranch in east-central Texas and, from the information that I received, one of the bucks was still alive when the trio was found. Apparently, the antlers were cut from the dead deer and one very tired buck was lucky enough to run back off into the woods.
There are lots of comments at the site, some opining that the event was faked and arguing the method of death, and one who reported seeing a buck attack a pair that was already locked.   My wife found another example at the same website:

 "...there is nothing worse than finding a dead buck that you did not shoot, but how would you feel if you found not one, but three dead bucks on your property? Okay, it gets worse. What if those three bucks totaled 450 inches of antler? That is exactly what a hunter in the mid-West found on his Ohio farm..."
"They had the bank of this creek all tore up."
Addendum #3: And reader Lisa knew of a ancient example of the phenomenon involving Ice Age mammoths.

Addendum #4:  Reposted from 2013 to add this image found by an anonymous reader -


- of a squirrel king in Nebraska, with the victims, as in the example cited above, fused at their tails by pine tree sap.

The first-ever performance of "Purple Rain" - 35 years ago


Feel old yet?  Filmed at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis in 1983
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