Journey’s End

As we all know, Opportunity was declared officially MIA a short while ago. I had planned on preparing a more sensical post as tribute, but instead, here is a short list of links on the subject:

Opportunity Rover (xkcd)

Opportunity (xkcd)

Spirit (xkcd) (I know I know but it’s a good one)

It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Our Beloved Mars Rover

NASA Declares a Beloved Mars Mission Over

Six Things to Know About NASA’s Opportunity Rover

The Mars Opportunity rover has officially ghosted Earth

Death and Opportunity

And finally, from the futuristic fiction department, A Martian Hunts for the Red Planet’s Past – And His Own

 

Youtube Video: Flat Earth OR Why Do People Reject Science? | Philosophy Tube

Phil O´Sofy Toobe is great leftist channel. I do not agree with everything in his videos, but that is not because I disagree with him on principle – I disagree with him on practicality. In short, I think we are fucked beyond hope, because human race as a whole is irredeemable and this prevents sensible implementation of leftist policies on greater scale.

In this video he tackles some of the whats and whys behind science denialism. I recommend many of his other videos – and there realy are many. I still haven’t seen them all.

#WomenInScience Day

Yesterday was Women and Girls in Science Day, which I only found out when it was almost over.

In the spirit of my work, here’s an article via The Atlantic, The History of Women in Science is Hidden in Plain Sight.

Over the last few years, a team of students led by Emilia Huerta-Sánchez from Brown University and Rori Rohlfs from San Francisco State University have been searching through two decades’ worth of acknowledgments in genetics papers and discovering women who were never given the credit that would be expected for today’s researchers. They identified dozens of female programmers who made important but unrecognized contributions. Some were repeatedly thanked in the acknowledgments of several papers, but were never recognized as authors. They became literal footnotes in scientific history, despite helping to make that history.

“When Emilia and I look at our elders in population genetics, there are very, very few women,” says Rohlfs. “But there were women and they were doing this work. To even know that they existed is a big deal to me.”

That seems to be the key – to even know that they existed. I know every time I find out about a woman in a field of science previously understood to be all male, I have Feelings, and it always feels like a big deal.

And I wish it wouldn’t.

YouTube Video: A Super-Material You Can Make In Your Kitchen (Starlite?)

Today a bit of chemistry and engineering that took my fancy. I have read about Starlite before, and I always wondered what it was made of. It would be swell if it could be made to actually work on big scale.

There are other materials that have similarly amazing insulating properties – aerogels – but they are brittle and a pain in the arse to make at home (i tried, and failed).

I am already thinking about how to use this in knifemaking.

Oh and sorry for being so quiet, but I was away for almost a week without internet and I am still catching my breath after getting back to work after.

Slavic Saturday

I used to collect books by Karl May. What, you might ask, has a German writer have to do with Slavic Saturday? Well, I used to only collect editions that were illustrated by Zdeněk Burian. I would collect them still, only I rarely have a chance to visit an antiquarian bookshop nowadays.

Cover of a set of photoreproductions. “Pravěk” means prehistory. Click for full size.

Outside of our little land, he is probably most known for his paleoart, which to my mind simply has no equal in past or present. It might not be the most accurate paleoart by today’s standards as science progresses, but those pictures are so alive that they still have value and still are inspiring. One of my most prized possessions is a set of loose sheets of photographic reproductions of his works – this was also one of the first of his works I have got my hands on. The mammoths on the cover are simply amazing – and that is an understatement. I would very much love to see the original paintings some day, everyone who had the honor tells me their impact is much greater than of the reproductions.

The back side of one of the sheets. Click for full size.

Each sheet in the book represents some specific geological era and it contains one A4 color reproduction of an oil painting on the front, and some black & white inks and some text on the back. Shame it was not published in other languages, and is not even published now in CZ, because I think many aspiring artists, paleontologists and paleoartists would benefit greatly from being exposed to this work more. I never cease to be impressed by what he was capable of achieving with just black ink and a pen.

His paleoart has been a great inspiration to me. I wanted to be a painter and to achieve such great things, but alas I lack the talent. Burian’s genius has in fact demonstrated itself early on, when at the age of mere 14 years he was accepted into study at Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, which he left just two years later. And he went straight into the most difficult branch of the painting and drawing business – illustrating books. I consider this to be the most difficult part, because not only is the artist forced to draw realistic humans, the scenes also have to be living and dynamic in order to truly add to the book. And here he got his first claim to fame, by illustrating adventure books both by renown authors (like Karl May and Jules Verne) and pure pulp fiction trash. He was extremely prolific, the amount of work he managed to do in his life is staggering.

An illustration of the book “The Son of Bear Hunter” by Karl May. The book is in very poor condition, almost falling apart. I paid for it anyway. Click for full size.

I have failed my dream of becoming as good an artist as he was, but this did not spoil my love for his art and my appreciation of his technique, and I still learned a lot from him and thanks to him. There are many books out there containing his illustrations that I did not get my hands on yet. I will never pass the chance should it occur.

Kosmoss

As somebody famous once said, we are the pale blue dot. From far enough away, invisible. Insignificant. Tiny. An isolated speck in an isolationist universe. In the cold mountain air, I found the stars had an extra sharpness at night. Humans can go so far in that darkness, but it is laughably close on the grand scale of galaxies. Here’s a peek into the great universe, as taken by me in Austria:

Our satellite, our companion.
©rq, all rights reserved.

My favourite constellation, Orion. We call it the Hunter here, and I wonder if its variety of names is as diverse as that of the Big Dipper?
©rq, all rights reserved.

But as much as I want to be just excited about another scientific and technological achievement, it’s hard to disconnect from the news today. Humans can be so selfish, and inconsiderate, and greedy, and destructive. Anyway, here’s Muriel Rukeyser back in 1968:

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.

It appears to be the second century of these wars. And the universe goes on and will go on without us, because humans are just that important. I just wish we could be selfish enough to consider mutual survival.

Funeral Care is Changing and Becoming Green

 

There’s a growing movement to wrestle death care away from the needlessly expensive hands of the Funeral Industry and to return to simpler methods of care and burial of the dead. The Order of the Good Death is an international organization committed to helping people find safe, green, affordable and natural options for burial. The Order is young, but growing quickly in part as a response to the startling statistics about our modern burial practices.

“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods), 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.” via Just How Bad is Traditional Burial?

One of the primary chemicals used in embalming fluid is formaldehyde, making all those gallons of embalming fluid highly toxic. Practitioners are required to wear full body and face protection and the chemicals aren’t always safely contained in our modern sealed caskets and concrete vaults. Flooding, earthquakes and even simply shifting ground can allow embalming fluids to leach into the soil and ground waters.

Cremation isn’t much better, releasing many dangerous pollutants into the air. There is, however, a new technology available called Aquamation which chemically breaks down a body using Alkaline Hydrolosis. The process is simple and transformative according to green funeral director Jeff Jorgenson

The AH process is that of heating a solution of water and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) or potassium hydroxide (KOH), which breaks down the complex molecules that make up the soft tissue of a body. In most human AH machines, this solution is pressurized and heated well above the boiling point of standard atmosphere. This high pressure/high temperature accelerates the breakdown of these complex molecules to a liquid. What remains are just the bones of the deceased, which is the same result you see with cremation. The process in human machines takes around three hours. Most animal AH machines however, this one included, do not use pressure for the process and thus, the temperatures used in the process are far lower, and that equals a longer processing time. This longer process means that you must perform multiple aquamations in one cycle to make it viable…

The water at the end of the cycle then gets discharged into the sanitary system like all other waste water. I would like to take a moment to explain that the liquid that is discharged is nutrient rich and safe enough to use in the garden for all of your vegetables. In cremation, all the tissues and liquid are vented up the chimney in the form of particulates and steam. In the both cremation and AH, what is returned to the family is simply bone and trace materials.

Aquamation is new technology and it may take some time before it becomes widely available and accepted. For those who want a more natural disposition of their dead there are green cemeteries popping up where bodies are simply buried in the soil with only a natural shroud or a biodegradable coffin. There are also now burial suits that turn bodies into clean compost. Decomposition is natural and safe. There is also a growing number of funeral directors who will assist you to be involved in the care of the body at your own level of comfort. That may be as simple as helping to wash and dress the dead or as complex as keeping the body at home and arranging for transport and burial. It is not a legal requirement that bodies be embalmed and it is perfectly safe to keep a body at home for several days with simply ice packs to slow down decomposition. 

A home funeral is what used to be called”a funeral,” since all funerals took place in the family home. Nowadays it means choosing to keep a body at home after death, as opposed to having the body immediately picked up by a funeral home. It is a safe and legal choice for a family to make!

Now, an important caveat is that each US state (for instance) has different laws – some states require you to hire a funeral director to file a death certificate or to transport a body.  This won’t effect the keeping the body at home part, but the funeral director will need to be involved in the process.

To find out what the home funeral requirements are where you live, you can find more detailed information here.

And if you’re interested in the requirements around embalming, burial, and cremation, read your consumer rights listed by state.

I encourage you to visit the Order of The Good Death. The site is full of resources and interesting articles about this growing trend in after death care. They also have information to help you begin conversations about planning for death and advanced directives. Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. There’s no need to fear talking about it.

I’d also like to thank Avalus for prompting me to write about this. His photographs of mushrooms in a natural burial cemetery peaked my curiosity. We’ll be sharing Avalus’ mushroom photos daily over the course of this week and I encourage you to check them out, too.

 

 

 

Anatomy Atlas Part 22 – Eye

For humans the eyes are probably one of the most important senses. They are definitively for me, so two years ago when a willow twig slashed me across one eye the pain was a mere secondary concern to the fear that an infection might cost me the whole eye. I did not hesitate and immediately sought medical help, got antibiotics and atropine and the eye healed in just a few weeks. Ever since then I am wearing eye protection when pruning willows, in addition to all the other jobs I am used to do so.

Description of an unpleasant  and cringe-worthy incident follows.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Incidentally just a few days ago I had a short conversation with the cleaning lady at our lab about this. I have made some mess that I did not manage to clean up before she arrived to mop the floors and I was apologizing to her for this. Her response was that it is her job to clean the floors and mine was that I know but that is no reason for me to do her job unnecessarily harder by not sweeping the aluminum shavings after I am done. After which she remarked in a passing that her former boyfriend was drilling aluminium when doing some renovations, he was too macho to wear an eye protection and got an aluminium shaving in one eye. And after that he was too macho to go to the doctor immediately, saying “it will rot away”.  And it did. With the whole eyeball. She finished “now he has one glass eye, and I have found myself a better man.”.

An example of how toxic masculinity is harmful, if I ever saw one.

Most people know at least something about the eye anatomy I guess, but I would bet most people do not know about the muscles musculus obliquus bulbi superior and musculus obliquus bulbi inferior.

These muscles can rotate the eyeball slightly around the front-back axis. Why is this? you might ask.

Generally the muscles around the eye, when you are looking at something, try to keep the picture you see static and at the center of focus, even when you move. So when you look at your monitor right now and tilt your head to left and back, your eye bulbs will rotate in the sockets in such a way as to keep the light falling on the same parts of retina throughout. That is also one of the reasons why human eyes cannot “pan” like a camera, but always skip from point to point.

It was explained to us that the purpose of this is to save the brain from getting overloaded with constantly changing stimuli. When the eye is fixed, it delivers constant signal to the brain from most of the retina, and the brain then can concentrate only on that which is really important – i.e. that which changes on its own.

I do not have the knowledge to challenge this notion, but I must say that the brain-software that keeps the eye focused and immobile relatively to the thing we are looking at must be pretty impressive too, with all those feedback loops reacting so quickly as they do.

Teacher’s Corner: Retarded!

As you may know by now I have recently started a new job as a special ed teacher without having actually trained as a special ed teacher. This is pretty challenging on top of the job being challenging anyway, and I’m trying to desperately read up on the concepts and theories of the discipline. In doing so I stumbled across a word that is one of the nastier ones flung around in English: retarded.

And I discovered that it is a good word. Or at least used to be.

See, special ed went through it’s development just like regular teaching. Concepts and ideas about children, learning and teaching have changed, change which is often (though not always) reflected in our schools. In its earlier stages, special ed saw children who were slow to learn as “defective”. Children who could more or less keep up with the classwork were “normal” and the other ones were broken, damaged goods, lacking. You see where this is going.

Then came science and studied children and how they learn. They put many things educators had long known on a scientific basis and formulated scientific concepts. One of the still most influential people in this area is the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, who described the processes through which we learn and also formulated stages through which we develop.

Screenshot of Piaget bok covers

Yes, there’s an endless amount of books on and by Piaget

All legitimate criticism aside (it relates mostly to how far you can take his models and where are limits of their application), his models are still important. As teachers we want and we need to challenge our students to help them in that development, which isn’t an automatism. We need to construct our input at the right level. Primary school teachers will endlessly use concrete things and pictures to teach their students. They need to literally take away five marbles to find out what 12-5 is.

What especially Piaget’s students found out was that not all children develop at roughly the same pace. Some children are much slower than the average, they stay behind, they are “retarded”. The concept as such was revolutionary. The children were no longer seen as defective, just slower. They were not inferior to their peers but would reach the same levels of cognitive development as their peers, just later. This had, and has, great importance for teaching children with special needs, as it means that we need to give them different input, teach them using a much more hands on approach than with their peers and most importantly, get them to the same place, just a little more slowly.

It’s sad to see how ableist ideas turned such a revolutionary concept into a nasty slur. It also shows that you need to change society, not just words. The slur does not mean what the word means in a professional context. It still means “broken and defective”.

 

Anatomy Atlas Part 21 – Heart

Heart. An organ whose importance was known throughout the history, but whose real function was not.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The one interesting fact about heart that springs to my mind is that one of the most important discoveries into how it actualy functions was done by a Czech anatomist Jan Evangelista Purkyně who discovered the specialized impluse-conveying neurons in 1837 (but I had to look that date up, since I have terrible memory for numbers). They bear his name “Purkynje fibers”.

I wonder whether kids in other nations around the world get to hear his name when learning about heart.

Anatomy Atlas Part 19 – Torso Muscles

Compared to the back, muscles on the front of the torso are relatively well-known even to laypeople. Prominent pectoral muscles and the famed “six-pack” are shown-off in comic books, movies, advertisements etcetera ad nauseam.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

However Professor Kos had nothing interesting to say about any of the muscles shown here, except the musculus platysma, which is not on the torso but on the neck.

It is a thin sheet muscle, directly under the skin to which it is connected with fascia. In humans it is a muscle of relatively minor importance, nearly a vestigial organ. But vestigial of what? According to Professor Kos, its function can be really well observed in horses and cattle. These animals use their tails and ears to try to keep flies and mosquitoes at least somewhat at bay, however they cannot effectively reach their necks and parts of torso. However what they can do, and do (I have in fact observed this myself) they can flex their  musculus platysma and similar thin muscle sheets directly under the skin, thus giving their skin a mighty shake in some places that can scare some insects off.

It is a nice story, but I doubt that this is original purpose of this muscle and its equivalents somewhere else on the body. More likely it is its repurposing for another function. Who knows?

Anatomy Atlas Part 18 – Arm Muscles

I mentioned that hands are a marvel – and so are arms. However the muscle structure is a bit weird.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

If you have ever wondered why biceps are called biceps, now you have the answer. The musculus biceps brachii splits into two parts on the upper end  and each is attached to a different part of the shoulder-blade. Whilst it its the most prominent muscle and its development is seen as a sign of strength, biceps is not the strongest flexor in the arm. That is in fact musculus brachialis which lies underneath, connects to ulna it and generally is not seen very much.

Professor Kos mentioned that this arrangement of these two muscles leads to one peculiar thing – flexing of the arm can exert more force when done palm up, than when palm down. Why? Because when the palm is directed down, the musculus biceps has its load bearing tendon wound around the radius to which it is connected. Therefore it cannot flex without also trying to turn the hand palm up.

So when lifting things by flexing your arm palm-down, only two muscles – m. brachialis and m. brachioradialis – can exert force, whereas palm up the m. biceps can join for more strength.

Why is it like this I do not know, but had it been designed, the engineer would deserve at least a pay cut.