Category Archives: Science

All about science

11,000 BC

I just saw an article about how ancient carvings in Turkey recorded a comet swarm that hit the earth 13,000 years ago.


I have no idea if that is true, but I recall reading about something similar that a comet struck the Earth about the same time and struck North America.

We know that a little over a century ago, in 1908, a comet struck Siberia in the Tunguska Event and it was devastating for the region, but because it was so remote and so little population that few were affected.  Explorers took several years before they could even visit the site. There was no crater, but trees for miles around was flattened by the blast. If something similar had happened, 13,000 years ago by an even larger comet striking the glaciers in North America there’d be very little evidence to show for it today.

And even more recently in 2013 a meteor exploded over a populated Siberian city,  Chelyabinsk, but because it was so much smaller than Tunguska the damage was relatively minor, 1100 were injured and thousands of windows destroyed.

I’m writing about it as a reminder to dig a little deeper to see if the evidence supports the theory. Catastrophic events have shaped human evolution and history, so it is possible, but is is true?

As a side note: It really should be the Year 12017 HE (Holocene or Human Era)



Yeah, I don’t know what it stands for either*. It’s the acronym for the Berkeley distributed computing project. Back in the late 90’s I participated in the SETI@Home project. You let the software use idle CPU cycles to search for artificial signals from deep space. I participated for a few years and ended up earning 2000 credits. I printed out my certificate and it’s laying about someplace. Anyway the distributed computing project was so popular Berkeley created a platform called BOINC and now there are dozens of projects. Tens of thousands of computers have participated creating vast networks of supercomputing power very cheaply.

I’ve got two old laptops I’m using as home servers (one is for web development work). Originally the laptops were used to play around with Linux and also to do development work for clients. I ended up turning the first one into a print server on our home network. Now we don’t have to take our laptops into my office to print. Since this server is on all the time heating up the room (slightly), my mind harkened back to SETI@Home. I knew there were other projects so I looked at the list to see what struck my fancy. I found two. MilkyWay@Home and

MilkyWay@Home uses data from the Digital Sloan Sky Survey to help generate an accurate 3D model of our own galaxy. The other is to run climate models and test the accuracy of climate models up to the year 2100. I chose the latter first as it seemed to be more practical. Actually I ended up choosing both, and I’m running each on their own laptop.

Although I accept the science for global warming, if I discuss it I don’t need to base my arguments on climate models. There’s plenty of hard evidence that humans have altered the climate. However, we do need to be able to predict the climate if people (mostly Americans) do not change the way they live to stop climate change. Computer climate modeling got underway in the 1970’s and those models have gotten more accurate and computers have gotten immensely more powerful since them. It would be useful to test to verify how accurate those models are. And if they are off then they can be improved.

If it turns out the climate models predict less serious consequences of human activity and those models have been made more accurate then that would be a good thing. I think it’s unlikely but we won’t know until we look. I suspect (and computer models have already predicted) that human caused climate change is going to be very bad for us. But we still have a window of opportunity to mitigate the worst consequences. We can’t stop it, but can slow it and eventually reverse it, but that will take centuries. However, that window is closing, and I don’t know how much time we’ve got.

Whether it’s for fun or serious reasons these distributed computing projects allow citizens to participate in large projects. And as computing power continues to improve these projects will help to solve pressing problems.

*Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing

82,000 Feet

On October 9, 2008 at 1:06PM CDT (19:06 UTC), The Cassini probe orbiting Saturn just flew within 25 kilometers of the moon Enceladus’ surface. That’s 82,000 feet. The altitude the SR-71 flew at or a little over twice as high that most commercial jets fly at. All I can say is wow, just wow!

Cassini flyby of Enceladus
Emily Lakdallawalla of the Planetary Society detailed Cassini’s itinerary Cassini flies within 25 kilometers of Enceladus tomorrow

And JPL scientist Shadan Ardalan, Cassini Navigator tells us Cassini made it Xtreme Navigation,Not for the Faint of Heart

Rendering Assistance

This is not as well written as I’d like, but I get my point across. I probably won’t rewrite it and clean it up. I’m just bein’ lazy. So there. I’ll just call it a final first draft.

I was on my way home from Pei Wei with a take away order. Melissa and our neighbor Christine were waiting for me at home. It was around 5:45pm Sunday evening. I was driving up Lewis from 61st St. when I saw a car facing north on the west curb of the street at 56th St. light. It looks like a car accident happened. I hadn’t seen anybody pulling over yet, so I go past to turn around. As I drove back I saw people going over to the car. I pull into the parking lot. People had pulled out cell phones and called 911. I hoped that’s what they were doing.

I want to say the car was a newer model Pontiac sedan. The driver was an elderly lady. There were two younger women talking to her. Checking on her. One was on a cell phone. I wnet over to the car and the lady is just sitting there in the car. The left front wheel is broken off and I can see a something spinning. So the motor must have still been on. I got the lady to turn it off. I went around the car to the street side and introduced myself. I reached in and turned on the flashing lights. After going back around the car to the others I asked if someone had called 911. They had. A couple of people said they had witness the accident. They said the lady had driven through the light and was swerving all over the road. One had followed her up Lewis.

I kept thinking we ought to get the lady out of the car because it was facing oncoming traffic, and she was in the sun. The car was sitting on top of a street sign she’d run over on the curb. The door was sticking from the bent metal but I pulled it open. It didn’t require any extraordinary effort.

Finally after about five minutes the cops show up, and I’m not sure those were the ones dispatched because they were driving slow. So I waved them over. They flashed their lights on and pulled up. Cop got out came over. I said I didn’t see it happen. He ignored me and that was fine. The odd thing was the lady was fidgeting in the car. While we were waiting for help, she’d been rifling through her glove box. Getting her insurance verification?

One of the two younger ladies waiting said the woman thought her husband was driving the vehicle. I only spoke the driver a few times and she followed my instructions when I told her to turn off the engine, put it in park so she could get her keys. I told her my name so as not to startle her when I turned on the emergency lights.

I’m not saying I was trying to be the good Samaritan, I had hot food that I wanted to get home. If I’d been delayed because of the accident I would have called Melissa for her to come and get the food. But I wasn’t a witness. Fresh in my mind I’d seen stories in the news of people seeing an old man run over and no one rendered assistance and the story about the women collapsing and dying in a waiting room and no one rendering assistance. Hello people! You can never be too busy to help. Thankfully there had been people that had stopped as well. Once the police were there and the fire truck showed up, the situation was under control and I left.

I am totally dumbstruck when I hear or see stories about people not doing anything when others are in distress. The thing is this happens in nature too. I saw National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth. They showed what happened to a monkey population when the top predators were removed. An artificial lake in South America created a bunch of islands that created isolated populations of all sorts of animals. Scientists were studying this accidental experiment.

As more and more monkeys populated the island and stripped it’s resources, the monkeys social cohesion broke down. No longer would they look out for each other, nor help each other. It was almost every monkey for himself. I’ve also heard of studies about rat overpopulation that is very detrimental as well. So my question is are we starting to see a real or perceived overpopulation in humans that is causing a breakdown in social norms? Or is it that we are more isolated from each other because of our car culture and televisions? Does the Internet help break down those barriers or reinforce them? Or is it something else entirely different and people have always behaved this badly? I feel we are seeing something new and disturbing.