Titan

Titan is like Earth with its rivers, lakes, and seas filled by rain, but as stated, this is liquid methane and ethane as opposed to liquid water on Earth. Like Earth, Titan also has sand dunes, but they are made of hydrocarbons instead of silicate-based substances. Also, much like Earth, Titan is known for having a seasonal liquid transport cycle, also known as the water cycle on Earth, linking atmosphere, land, and oceans.

~ Laurence Tognetti from, https://www.universetoday.com/155659/titan-is-an-alien-world-but-surprisingly-familiar/

Back in the 1980s I read a lot of science fiction weaving epic tales and describing alien landscapes. These days, I continue to read things which are weaving epic, and describing alien—but they are no longer fiction.

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Logical conclusions

In its original Latin use, the word genius was more readily applied to places — genius loci: “the spirit of a place” — than to persons, encoded with the reminder that we are profoundly shaped by the patch of spacetime into which the chance-accident of our birth has deposited us, our minds porous to the ideological atmosphere of our epoch. It is a humbling notion — an antidote to the vanity of seeing our ideas as the autonomous and unalloyed products of our own minds.

~ Maria Popova from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/09/15/samuel-butler-darwin-among-the-machines-erewhon/

This is a delightful meander across time and authors.

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That’s… interesting

But in our Physics Project we’ve developed a fundamentally different view of space—in which space is not just a background, but has its own elaborate composition and structure. And in fact, we posit that space is in a sense everything that exists, and that all “things” are ultimately just features of the structure of space. We imagine that at the lowest level, space consists of large numbers of abstract “atoms of space” connected in a hypergraph that’s continually getting updated according to definite rules and that’s a huge version of something like this…

~ Stephen Wolfram from, https://writings.stephenwolfram.com/2022/03/on-the-concept-of-motion/

I’m not sure what to say about this. I am certain that Wolfram is not crazy and that he is brilliant, but he’s pretty far beyond what I can understand. (Picture me doing that slightly askew, squinting thing.) On the other hand, if they really are making the progress they seem to be… it’s going to be a neat time to be alive, in another decade when they get things sorted out.

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Falsity and simplicity

False science and false religion express their dogmas in highly elevated language to make simple people think that they are mysterious, important, and attractive. But this mysterious language is not a sign of wisdom. The wiser a person is, the simpler the language he uses to express his thoughts.

~ Lucy Malory

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Creepy

Motility, and in particular directed motility, is decisively important for host colonization, as bacteria deliberately seek to colonize an organism and conquer all niches.

~ Ludwig Maximilian from, https://phys.org/news/2022-03-stress-hormones-bacteria-host.html

*shudders* The article is about stress hormones in people, and research into how bacteria are (not “may be”) using our hormones to signal when they (the bacteria, *shudder* again) should go on the offensive and move. I don’t have anything to add. This just struck me as creepy.

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Tasty numbers

For five years as a data analyst, I forecasted and analyzed Google’s revenue. For six years as a data visualization specialist, I’ve helped clients and colleagues discover new features of the data they know best. Time and time again, I’ve found that by being more specific about what’s important to us and embracing the complexity in our data, we can discover new features in that data. These features can lead us to ask better data-driven questions that change how we analyze our data, the parameters we choose for our models, our scientific processes, or our business strategies.

~ Zan Armstrong from, https://stackoverflow.blog/2022/03/03/stop-aggregating-away-the-signal-in-your-data/

This one just has neat graphs in it. And it has some interesting insights about what data analysts do. The phrase “big data” has been tossed around a lot in recent years—the way “quantum mechanics” gets tossed around by people who have no idea about that either. This article isn’t about truly big data sets, but it’s a neat dive into energy usage as an example of some spiffy data analysis.

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May break the Internet

If Earth were to shift to even longer days, we may need to incorporate a “negative leap second”—this would be unprecedented, and may break the internet.

~ Matt King and Christopher Watson from, https://phys.org/news/2022-08-length-earth-days-mysteriously-scientists.html

The use of the phrase “may break the internet” made me smile. It’s not irony, and it’s serious. I do not want to think about what would happen if they inserted a negative leap second; The forward sort are bad enough, and don’t get me started on Daylight Savings Time. I digress.

This is a refreshingly clear, popular-science level article that covers the myriad reasons there is such variability in the exact amount of time it takes our magic marble to whirl precisely once around its axis. The very first thing most people never think of is how do we even precisely decide what “one rotation” is. (Hint: Astronomy.)

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Upper bounds

If we play our cards right, we could live hundreds of thousands of years more. In fact, there’s not much stopping us living millions of years. The typical species lives about a million years. Our 200,000 years so far would put us about in our adolescence, just old enough to be getting ourselves in trouble, but not wise enough to have thought through how we should act.

~ Toby Ord from, https://www.edge.org/conversation/toby_ord-we-have-the-power-to-destroy-ourselves-without-the-wisdom-to-ensure-that-we

I find it beneficial to have my perspectives stretched. This article walks through scales of time in a delightful manner. It pauses to ask questions, and to point out people who did certain things at precise points in our history. There are countless opportunities to shift perspective. For example: I’ve been alive for 1/100 of recorded human history. And recorded history is only 3/100 of the age of our species. The aggregate progress of humanity is simply the sum of our individual efforts, and my life represents 1/100,000,000,000 of humanity so far. Stretched perspectives indeed.

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Pasteur’s Quadrant

The core idea of Pasteur’s Quadrant is that basic and applied research are not opposed, but orthogonal. Instead of a one-dimensional spectrum, with motion towards “basic” taking you further away from “applied”, and vice versa, he proposes a two-dimensional classification, with one axis being “inspired by the quest for fundamental understanding” and the other being “inspired by considerations of use”

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/pasteurs-quadrant

I’ve put a bit of thought into research. I’ve certainly considered the two properties of “research for understanding” and “research for application”. But I’ve never thought of them as two dimensions. Click through and check out the simple but illuminating quadrant graph.

And I’m immediately wondering: Can I think of a third dimension upon which to plot research? (Field-of-study comes to mind. Time; The thing being studied, is it something that happens in micro-time like particle physics, or macro-time like geology?) I’m also wondering: what other activities could be plotted in a quadrant? (Writing: insight versus length? Coaching: net change in performance versus time spent training?)

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The germ theory

Thus the germ theory, long before it led to medical treatments, drove down mortality rates by revolutionizing sanitation and hygiene.

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/draining-the-swamp

No, literally draining the swamp. There are a few reasons to click through on that. The most amazing is simply to scroll through the long article and glance at all the graphs; Graphs of magnificent drops in mortality rates by the 1950s. The 50s and 60s were demonstrably amazing simply for the fact that by then, most people weren’t dying of the same infectious things that have been killing people for millennia.

But the little gem quoted above was something that made me pause. Yes, it’s always fun to chuckle from the privileged perspective of the third millennia of the Common Era: The germ theory. *giggles* “Theory.” That’s so cute. What made me pause though was the thought about sanitation. I’d always thought of how the germ theory *giggles* affected medical treatments—washing hands by physicians and surgeons and penicillin and all that good stuff. But the idea that, “hey tiny stuff we can’t see can hurt us… maybe we should, ya know, filter and treat the drinking water?” …it hadn’t occurred to me that that too became a thing we actually started doing because of the germ theory.

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