science

Lokal Stops: We Good

Good news: near-death experiences are overwhelmingly peaceful. Also, the asshole who comes in the office every morning touting all he’s already accomplished that day is less ethical at night than you, who woke up at a normal time.

Bad news: I’m drowning in soccer.

 
Although there may possibly be 10 quadrillion civilizations out in the universe – how come we haven’t heard from any of them yet? For god’s sake, where is everybody? Whatever the reasons for Fermi’s Paradox, us humans are doing the best we can to reach out to the abyss. If there’s anything you’ve been burning to tell distant, alien lifeforms, now’s your chance. After stopping at Pluto, a NASA probe will leave the comforts of our solar system, carrying digital messages from the people of Earth. How do we want to be remembered? What kind of a species do we want to be known as?

I, for one, propose we send out this Game of Thrones intro from the ’80s-that-could’ve-been:

 
I suppose the aliens would need context, so we might as well just send out all of Game of Thrones. I want to be remembered as the species that produced good television. Please dear god no one tell the aliens about Uber weddings.

And let it never be said that we are not a species that is constantly evolving.

Now, let’s take a step back from the vast cosmos and peer into the vast human brain instead. Despite the fact that everything we know, feel, and do is a direct result of our brains, we know little about how it works. And what do we do when we don’t know something? We examine it. We learn about it. We revise. We send probes into deep space, we study human creativity. We are a curious species.

Sometimes, we even solve some of nature’s mysteries.

We have our problems, but we’re okay.

We good, we good.

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Lokal Stops: War and (Lego) Piece(s)

Kids these days can prepare for their wedding and baby registries by beta testing Target’s college registry. Would I love to go back to college? Yes. Would I love to go back to the summer before college and add a bunch of shit to a college registry? Absolutely.

Would I love to go back to high school? Nope. But there are some people out there who probably would love to go back: there is now science proving that cool kids end up being shitty at life. If you’re a loser since high school and have had a real hard time and are looking to make some cash, a scientist is offering $10,000 to anyone who can prove that climate change is a hoax. Or you can do something with your life and do great literature via Lego, “as Homer originally intended.”

In other news, James Franco might cause a nuclear war. This means it’s prime time for us to apply math that can prove that something exists without visual evidence. Prove the nukes exist, get rid of the nukes, and we can all go back to tolerating each other.

Journalists continue to bring us the news that matters: 35% of people in a survey admitted to binge-watching Breaking Bad. Technology will soon be able to know exactly how you feel while watching TV by reading your goosebumps.

If that last one feels a bit like science fiction, there’s plenty more where that came from. We are now living in a time when scientists have found a mysterious galactic glow that might explain dark matter, and the paralyzed can move with their thoughts.

Finally, let’s wind down with an exercise in meditation.

Lokal Stops: We’re Not Animals!

Once upon a time, there was a boy. He was 6 or 7, sitting at his dinner table, looking at the plate of salad that had been set in front of him. This child, in all his experiential wisdom, thought to himself that this plate of leaves “seemed a little primitive – like something an animal would do.” Today, the boy is 25 years old, and has created a “beige beverage” called Soylent to replace the basic, bestial acts of cooking and eating. The man says, “People have this belief that just because something is natural it’s good. The natural state of man is ignorant, starving, and cold. We have technology that makes our lives better. It doesn’t make sense that you would keep technology out of this very important part of life.”

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Also, he recently bought an old Ford pickup with “Bitcoin” money because “Ferraris are wasteful” which he might be right about because Ford F250s from 20 years ago have a gas mileage of up to 14mpg in the city and a brand new Ferrari only gets 11mpg. It’s a shame we live in a world where the only available cars are expensive, wasteful, and fuel inefficient.

Anyways, because everything this guy does makes a ton of sense, we really got to thinking: what other human acts are “primitive” and animalistic? What other acts of savagery do we commit every single day? Here goes:

1. A photographer is using his skills to take professional photos of doggies at a kill shelter to increase chances that the pups are adopted. Just because it’s nice to save helpless and adorable animals doesn’t mean we should.

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2. Sex. Fluid-y and loud and talk about bestial. 45% of men finish within 2 minutes according to science, probably in an effort to keep the having of sex to a minimum. They are the true anti-savagery heroes.

3. Neil de Grasse Tyson was all like, forgiving and compassionate about Donald Sterling:

“We’re human, we make mistakes, and I might be more forgiving than others. But life is very complex. And to indict the rest of someone’s life on one thing they say — give them a chance to redeem themselves.”

4. Also, let’s talk about weed. Grows from the earth, has leaves, less harmful than alcohol, maybe reduces chances of getting cancer… fuck that. Do drugs made in a lab instead. More civilized for sure.

5. Turns out not everything is available in the App Store. Come on, isn’t this supposed to be the future? What year even is this?

Clearly, the world is a savage place. So why stop at engineering food to rise above the savagery? Why not use the technology we have to improve our very genetic code?

No one will mistake us for animals when there’s fire shooting out of our palms.

Or we can apply our newfound knowledge of the physics of Spider-Man’s webs to maybe get in on that web-slinging action. Now, you might be thinking that shooting spiderwebs out of our palms would make us more like, say, spiders, but you would be wrong – because we’d be using technology to get the webs, while spiders are naturally born with webs. And, as we have learned, technology is what separates man from beast.

Don’t you let anyone get you down by telling you that you have more similarities with the natural world than you can begin to imagine, you hear?

Yet another horrifying fact further delegitimizes anything Bill O’Reilly says: in blaming black teen pregnancy on Beyoncé, O’Reilly has revealed that he’s never even listened to Beyoncé’s music before.

Beasts, humans, Bill O-Reilly—even in chaos, things have a way of working themselves out.

Lokal Stops: Of Coke and Suffering

There was a time on this Earth when human beings used Coca Cola as a spermicide. Humans realized that the bottle in which Coca Cola comes in was a great device with which to apply Coke to vagina, often utilizing the “shake and shoot” method. Humans, a truly unique species, are the only animals on planet Earth to wonder about the meaning of life.

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The question of the meaning of life causes human beings a lot of suffering. In this past week’s New York Times Sunday Review, Tim Kreider writes:

Even if we someday solve all our societal problems, people will still be unlucky in love, lonesome and bored, lie awake worrying about the future and regretting stupid things they did and wondering whether it’s all even worth it. Utopia will have an unendurable amount of hassles to deal with, endless forms to fill out, apathetic bureaucrats, taxes, ads and bad weather. Time will still pass without mercy.

This isn’t pessimism; it’s science.

For Harper Lee, time has passed for 88 years today. Also, today, Harper Lee announced that she’s letting To Kill a Mockingbird to be published as an e-book.

For this one guy, 4 minutes and 57 seconds passed, and in that time, he ran one mile and drank five beers.

In media news… Vox.com – relaunched for time number seven at the beginning of April – is publishing interviews alongside its reporting and here’s why that’s great. To quote that article: “I suspect a lot of people arrive at the article page and don’t even realize there’s an interview a click away — or vice versa.” Yep. Didn’t realize it.

Microsoft continues its campaign for media domination with its very own version of Netflix Originals, called Xbox Originals. It’s all very original. Apparently we haven’t lost enough touch with the world around us by spending hundreds of hours looking for digital coins to buy our digital weapons to kill some digital bastards. Now we’ll have some new programs to keep us away from our loved ones.

In media news from 20 years ago, Internet is coming to NPR! The future is now.

Women Do Science Sometimes, and Sometimes We Talk About Them

The eighth episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, “Sisters of the Sun,” focused on female scientists who majorly influenced astronomy and astrophysics. Here’s the rundown (uh, it’s not possible to spoil the plot of Cosmos, is it?): because at the time women couldn’t receive science degrees at Cambridge where she attended lectures, Cecilia Payne left her native England to study astronomy at Harvard. With the help of Annie Jump Cannon – who was the first to organize and classify the stars based on their temperatures – Payne discovered that stars are mostly composed of hydrogen and helium, which she then realized are the most abundant elements in the universe. Otto Struve, a Russian-American astronomer and man, said that her 1925 thesis, titled Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observation Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars was “undoubtedly the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.” (He did die in 1963, so perhaps he missed a few of the recent ones, but still.)

Watching the episode last night, as usual, I felt a little inadequate to the genius minds that not only comprehend amazingly complex science, but also make seemingly extraneous connections to fuel new discoveries. (This feeling of inadequacy, by the way, I take as a great great motivator.) The female pioneers featured on last night’s Cosmos were, just like any of the males we generally learn about, brilliant thinkers. And they – like most women in any field even today – made these scientific strides facing harsh adversity. Women in science are rare, precisely because of the gendered setbacks (like not awarding degrees in science in the past, or still relevant today, mythologizing that women are bad at math).

At the same time, female scientists rarely get the attention they deserve. So last night’s episode perhaps attempted to redeem this sexism in historical narrative.

But then again, maybe if Cosmos focused on women in science alongside men all the time, in each episode… maybe it wouldn’t need an entire episode dedicated to female scientists. Women have made equally important contributions consistently (just take a look at this Wikipedia list of female scientists before the 21st century!) – and have been omitted from previous episodes. Such as Caroline Herschel, whose brother William was featured in episode four, “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” although both were equally as interested and active in astronomical discoveries. She discovered M110 (NGC205) – a satellite of the galaxy Andromeda – and discovered several comets.

 
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But also, last night’s episode also mentioned something that I feel like I should have heard about before? There’s a huge mega supermassive star called Eta Carinae only 7,500 light years away that’s going to explode perhaps in our lifetimes. (Note: nothing really ever happens in our lifetimes. We exist for a miniscule portion of time, and we can barely see anything from Earth, so what are the chances?!) From NASA:

Eta Carinae is not only interesting because of its past, but also because of its future. It is one of the closest stars to Earth that is likely to explode in a supernova in the relatively near future (though in astronomical timescales the “near future” could still be a million years away). When it does, expect an impressive view from Earth, far brighter still than its last outburst: SN 2006gy, the brightest supernova ever observed, came from a star of the same type, though from a galaxy over 200 million light-years away.

Lokal Stops: No Explanation

For some reason, people don’t like it when other people explain things to them.

 
So let’s just do some pros and cons today:

Taco Bell and its new “fast-casual” Mexican chain
pros: boozy milkshakes
cons: it’s called US Taco

America
pros: boozy milkshakes
cons: the “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro” guy lives here

Silicon Valley
pros: the revenge of the nerds!
cons: it’s horrible

The Internet
pros: there’s nothing it can’t do
cons: it does stuff to our feelings

Science
pros: it brings presidents and robots together
cons: nothing, science is awesome

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Aside from pros and cons, here are some things you should know: book covers are giving us the wrong idea about Lolita; scientific journals aren’t really trying very hard; there’s a bitcoin debit card now; and Andy Warhol made some computer art.

I would explain why any of this is relevant, but you probably don’t want me to.

Lokal Stops: The Limit Does Not Exist

All good things must come to being mistakes: the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau says they messed up and approved the powdered alcohol by accident. Don’t let the news cancel your fun, though: just cook up your own powdered amusements. The sky is the limit!

In other news, the sky is no longer the limit. In fact, the sky has not been the limit for quite some time. In fact, the limit does not existWe’ve been to the moon, pretty much assume there’s life on other planets, and soon we’ll be able to see aliens from the comfort of our own solar system.

These are all just baby steps… though giant, leaping baby steps, sure. The guy in charge at NASA says that if we want humanity to survive indefinitely, we’ll have to start colonizing other planets. NASA’s already working on designs for a new spacesuit for Mars. As we get closer to Mars, NASA will have to consider how to advertise space this time around. (Disney probably doesn’t have to be involved.) While we’re at it, we should probably also come up with some galactic laws.

Some cynics out there might be able to think of a reason or two that humanity might just want to stick to the one planet.

To those cynics, I say: things here on Earth could be a lot worse, so let’s try to chin up and look on the bright side. For example: on the bright side, a huge asteroid wiped out all of the creatures that would’ve kept us in the food chain. (On a murkier side, we aren’t as safe from asteroids as we like to believe–but at least if we’re ever struck, there’s a possibility that we’ll be remembered.)

Murky with a chance of sun: some poor schlep sold what might be Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary on eBay.

Also probably feeling pretty schleppy today is the NYPD, whose social media team asked people to tweet their photos with officers, tagged #myNYPD. You probably don’t need a link, you probably don’t need sample tweets of what happened next, but here you go anyway:

Twitter___mollycrabapple___myNYPD__johnknefel____

While the NYPD is treated to its daily ration of criticism/ridicule, James Franco once again enjoys some hearty portions of art-world-ego, while his peers smile and nod at him uncomfortably. For some discomfort outside of the art world, look no further than Game of Thrones’s accidental rapist.

If any of today’s news is making you anxious, you might want to dip into some of Earth’s natural resources for some peace of mind. Or just throw up your hands and let someone else take the wheel.

The Universe on Television, Again: Tyson’s New Cosmos

As kids, we have phases: dinosaurs, mummies, space, etc. We perfect drawing our favorite dinosaur during recess, or take out books about ancient embalming from the local library, or we print out pictures of the planets, color them in, and tape them to the walls of the spare room and call it a Planetarium; admission is five cents. (The last one can’t just be me, right?)

But then the excitement wanes: learning becomes less cool and emotionally liberating than other things like writing out crushes’ names in very careful cursive in the margins of our notebooks. The public school system doesn’t try hard enough to excite its students; science falls to the wayside and no one’s there to reverse this.

In the fall of 1980, PBS aired thirteen episodes of a show in which a man with a certain velvety aura travels across the universe and across time in a “Spaceship of the Imagination.” (This spaceship is shaped like a dandelion seed and is very spacious indeed and looks like it’s not too complicated to operate. Also, sometimes the floor becomes transparent so you can look down at space below.) The man is smiling approximately 94% of the time, he wears a lot of brown clothing, often there is a turtleneck involved, and his voice is excruciatingly creamy: in other words, he is decidedly someone you’d like to read you a bedtime story every night. This show, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, is the most widely-viewed PBS show in the world.

Carl Sagan, the narrator and co-writer of Cosmos, was an astrophysicist, astronomer, and, very importantly, a science communicator. The goal he had in mind for the show was to inspire wonder at science, and to inspire future scientists.

On March 9, 2014, Fox will premiere the first episode of the sequel, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Hosted this time by Neil de Grasse Tyson – a much more vigorous personality, yet also with very specific sensuousness about him – it seems from the trailer and NPR’s Fresh Air interview that the show will strongly recall the original Cosmos. Tyson is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York, and though I can’t yet be sure of his wardrobe on the show, he does majestically don sunglasses as the Big Bang erupts in front of him in the trailer. Also, the Spaceship of the Imagination is no longer a dandelion seed: it’s sleek and shiny (i.e. “modern”).

To be honest, when I first heard that Cosmos was being revamped, I was skeptical. I wondered why Neil de Grasse Tyson & co. didn’t just make an entirely new show. Tyson is a very different personality than Sagan, sensuousness aside: to me, Cosmos wasn’t a modern, mega-visual effected, galactic bonanza of spectacle, as I was sure the remake would be. It was a contemplative place, mellow though breath-taking. But the objective of the original Cosmos – to excite and inspire – was valid and important one… and it still is. So I realized, that’s why a modernized sequel is also valid and important.

Will people care to tune in? The show will be broadcast March 9, 2014 at 9/8c, airing across ten networks, including Fox, FX, and NatGeo. On Fox, it will follow Family Guy, whose audience demographic is the most coveted: 18-34 year old males. (And FYI, Seth MacFarlane is an executive producer of Cosmos.) But anyways, don’t we know that kids these days aren’t watching cable? To me, and hopefully to some of the creators of the shower (though definitely not the media execs at Fox), television ratings don’t much matter when assessing the success of Cosmos. For one, they are skewed with Hulu and all the other variations of online viewing. But the point isn’t where or how people watch the show – it isn’t that they tune into Fox at 9pm on March 9th – but that they watch it at all.

And I’m optimistic – Bill Nye recently brought on a slew of science interest and consideration recently, and just in time. His debate in early February versus Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum, sparked discussion and shock (and a tad of nostalgia for the Science Guy days) with regards to science knowledge and education – every major news organization commented, and Twitter was a-flutter. This proves that people are interested, they just aren’t offered the resources or conditions under which to indulge in their natural human curiosity. Given the lack of motivators, maybe television – at least at 9pm on Sundays – is the best babysitter.

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And in the opposite vein of TL;DR, if you’d like to read more on Neil de Grasse Tyson and on Cosmos in general, I propose:

At the age of eleven, Tyson spoke with a teacher at P.S. 81 about his fascination with astronomy. Tyson’s older brother, Stephen, who is an artist, recalls, “The teacher asked, ‘Why do you want to go into science? There aren’t any Negroes in the field. Why don’t you go into sports?'”

In science, as in other areas of our culture, there is no dearth of voices, but are we paying attention? In the new New Age, it’s all about which cable channels you watch or whom you follow on Twitter.

We could use a national conversation that is not about scandal or sports. If everybody watches the new “Cosmos,” we can talk about it the way we once argued about “The Sopranos” every Monday morning.