Gov. Jay Inslee expanded school closures and prohibited large gatherings across all of Washington State on Friday, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Health officials reported at least five new deaths, and more than 560 people have now tested positive.
– Associated Press
Trump finally announced today — some 30 minutes before Wall Street closed for the week— that he declares a National Emergency* over the coronavirus. He shook hands with at least three Fortune 500 executives (a bad example in the time of coronavirus), and proceeded to exchange barbs with the press. ‘Such a nasty question’ he said, without answering, when asked why he disbanded the pandemic response team when he took office.
Panic buying erupted on Wall Street, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average and other indexes up almost 10%.
Okaayy .. but there is going to be a recession. How can there not be? The world is grinding to a halt. The three largest cruise ship lines have announced a suspension in cruising for 30 days. Delta Airlines says the drop-off in business is worse than after 9/11. If any number of states is like Washington State or the State of New York, the national economic impact will be significant.
*The Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1987 is activated. When the Stafford Act is activated to deal with a pandemic, the federal government can begin providing direct emergency medical care to citizens throughout the country. This could include the establishment of temporary hospitals, for example, to ease the nation’s projected shortage of intensive care beds. The government could also use the act to provide food, water, medicine and other supplies to Americans. [Source: USA Today].
Researchers from the University of California Irvine discovered that during landing, toads’ muscles adapt to the varying intensity of impact. As the creatures hop over longer distances, their landing muscles increasingly shorten in anticipation of larger impacts. UC Irvine biologist Emanuel Azizi says that toads are ideal for studying jumping and landing because they’re so good at it, and that studying them provides the basic science on how muscles respond during high-impact behaviors like landing or falling. [Video clip by University of California @uofcalifornia on giphy.com].
P.S. Also: it’s Saturday, so the stock market cannot go down.
It was 50 years ago, to the day, that the first remote login from one terminal to another was done, on what was then called Arpanet. And so the internet was born, say the pundits.
Research papers into the late 70’s referred to these linked terminals as the ‘catenet model’ (concatenated terminals). It was only in the early 80’s with the arrival of the Transmission Control Protocol/ Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocol that the term ‘internet’ was settled on.
And it would be until the mid-90’s, before the public-at-large would get drawn into the internet — by the likes of America Online and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Amazon (1997*), Netflix (2002), Google (2004), Facebook (2012) and Twitter (2013) would follow.
Here we are again, with national coverage of the massive wildfires in California, and scenes of their total destruction. I’m not sure the preventive power outages from Pacific Gas & Electric have helped that much. (The largest ever: 2 million+ people without power for 5 days of intentional outages).
It seems it will take a combination of hardening PG&E’s electric grid (example: metal powerline poles instead of wood), aggressive cutting of trees & shrubs near power lines, and designating high-risk areas as out-of-bounds for new development or even for rebuilding. The last few years, Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor have already poured an extra $1.2 billion into new planes, helicopters, more firetrucks and vegetation thinning.
Hurricane-strength winds (more than 80 mph), had made several of the fires spread rapidly, making them into blow torches that light up the tinder-dry vegetation.
‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are’.
– from Seduction of the Minotaur, by Anais Nin (1961)
The entire Sept. issue of Scientific American is dedicated to the topic on the front page in bold letters: Truth, Lies & Uncertainty: Searching for Reality in Unreal Times. The articles are heavy on science and general philosophies about what is real and what is virtual. For example: to this day, philosophers cannot agree on whether mathematical objects (say, the number ‘7’) exist, or are pure fictions.
A summary of the article by Prof. Anil K. Seth that goes with the picture below, goes like this:
‘The reality we perceive is not a direct reflection of the external objective world. Instead it is the product of the brain’s predictions about the causes of incoming sensory signals. The property of realness that accompanies our perceptions may serve to guide our behavior so that we respond appropriately to the sources of sensory signals’.
So throw in Presidents that lie every day, greedy corporations with profit incentives, and worldwide social media networks — and holy cow: it’s more important than ever before to try to verify if something uncertain or new that we come across, is ‘true’.
I played a little social tennis tonight on the Woodland Park tennis courts. We rained out on both Tuesday and Thursday of last week, so it was great to finally get out and play.
And hey! the muscle memory from many years of playing tennis is still there, sending signals to the old muscles and creaky bones— to run down that incoming shot, and strike it, so it goes back over the net.
When I was a kid, we would build a cozy wood fire in the living room fireplace in winter time. On top would go a layer of anthracite (hard black coal, with a metallic luster on its surface), to make the fire glow a long, long time.
But then I would go to school the next morning, and the neighborhood’s chilly winter air would be blanketed by a layer of thick smoke. Man! I thought .. this is not good.
Now here we are, 50 years later, and I read about the Australian elections, and the saga of the contentious Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. The mine will be ‘hugely beneficial’ to Australia and ‘global climate change’, says Adani CEO Jeyakumar Janakraj. Really? Yes, your $16.5 billion project will create a few thousand jobs, but pump up to 12 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor River. It will gouge out 60 million tonnes of low-grade coal every year from the Galilee basin right across the Great Barrier Reef. The coal will get burned in India andpush up the 415 parts per million CO2 concentration we already have in the atmosphere.
What you seek is but a shadow.
– the motto on the University of Washington sundial.
With all the sunshine we had this week, I thought it was high time for me to understand how the sundial on the Physics building at the University of Washington works!
In the picture below, the shadow of the gnomon (ball) moves from left to right as the day progresses. The sun crosses lower in the sky in winter time, and then the path on the wall is higher. The sun crosses higher in summer time, and then the path on the wall is lower. The equinox was in March, so we have already crossed to below the line marked EQUINOX on the sundial.
The only other thing that seemed out of whack, was that the dial seemed a little off: it showed 12.30 pm PDT on the nose, when it was already 12.39 pm when I took the picture. Should the gnomon ball shadow not have moved at least a little bit off the 12.30 pm line, towards the 1.00 pm line?
We in Seattle, and all others in the Pacific Standard Time zone, keep a clock time based on the solar time at the arbitrary longitude of 120° W (which happens to pass through the town of Chelan). However, in Seattle we are located some 2° 19′ to the west of this longitude, and the sundial in Seattle indicates a time 9.2 minutes earlier than the sun would in Chelan. Here is the full explanation from the UW Dept. of Physics.
P.S. Look for the slender figure-eight-shaped curve in the sundial’s center by the 12, called the analemma. It is a plot of the location on each day at noon, throughout the year, of the gnomon ball’s shadow.
I was at the eye doctor today for my biannual check-up (all good). Since part of the test was a retina scan, I thought I’d refresh my knowledge of rods and cones in the retina. The human retina contains about 120 million rod cells, and 6 million cone cells. Check out the diagram below for a primer on how the retina works.
Biologists are still learning about all the cells and proteins and chemistry involved in vision. For example, in 2008 a team of Japanese researchers discovered a lightning-fast protein involved in the precise interactions between what is called the photoreceptor ribbon synapse and the bipolar dendrites. They promptly named the protein Pikachurin, after Pikachu, the lightning-fast Pokémon creature.
Google made a great doodle of the first-ever image of a black hole ●. This black hole is in Messier 87 (abbreviated as M87), a giant galaxy in the constellation Virgo. The black hole is several billion times more massive than our Sun. Lucky for us, it is about 53 million light years from Earth.
What will happen to a human falling into a black hole? Based on the mathematics in Einstein’s general theory of relativity of 1915, you would fall through the event horizon unscathed, then the force of gravity would pull you into a very long noodle and ultimately cram you into singularity, the black hole’s infinitely dense core. Ouch?
The spectacular – and spectacularly upsetting, it looks like to me – Our Planet series of episodes from renowned filmmaker Sir David Attenborough (he’s 92) is set to debut on Friday on Netflix in 190 countries. It may draw a total audience of one billion viewers.
The material has been four years in the making, with filming done in 50 countries and with the collaboration of the World Wildlife Fund. No bones are made about the impact that human activity has had on the planet. Humans are accelerating what is called the Sixth Extinction, of plant and animal species across the globe.
Below is a preview and a few photos from the series, that the Irish Times had published over the weekend. The octopus in the last picture is off the coast of South Africa.
Spring has arrived here in the North.
We experienced freakishly warm spring temperatures here in the city yesterday and today: 79 °F (26 °C).
A supermoon tonight coincided with the start of spring, the third and final supermoon for the year. (A supermoon is called a perigean full moon by astronomers. It occurs when a full moon reaches its closest point to the Earth in its elliptical orbit, making it appear unusually bright and large).
The ‘worm’ in the moon’s description refers to little creatures like worms that resume squirming out of the ground, along with the leaves and flowers that start budding in spring.
We watched ‘Behind the Curve’ tonight: a Netflix documentary about Flat Earthers. For these people, no ‘conspiracy’ is too big to discount. They say that NASA lies and has conspired for decades to portray Earth as round. They find each other on Facebook groups and Youtube videos, and at conferences, prominent Flat Earthers are treated as celebrities that advocate for ‘the truth’. (The conferences are more about commiserating with each other for being outcasts, than they are about explaining the logical basis for saying that Earth is flat).
One of the main protagonists in the movie is from Whidbey Island, a stone’s throw from Seattle. (Dude. We don’t know you, but stop embarrassing us!). The documentary makes the case that Flat Earthers should not be dismissed & shamed outright, since that will entrench their kooky views even further, and completely marginalize them. The problem is that one cannot use reason to argue with a cultist.
This conspiracy theory mindset bleeds into all kinds of other areas. We have people in the United States that believe that 9/11 and Sandy Hook were perpetrated by the US government, and that mass shootings are staged with ‘crisis actors’. People don’t vaccinate their children. We had a recent case here in Oregon with an unvaccinated boy that almost died from tetanus. It took 57 days in hospital and $800,000 to treat him. His parents took him home and still refused to get him vaccinated.
Was our solar system visited (in 2017) by a probe sent by an alien civilization? Astrophysicist Avi Loeb (from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA) explains why it is possible, in the January issue of the German magazine Der Spiegel. 1 The Intruder On October 19, 2017, the Pan-Starrs Telescope in Hawaii discovered a strange elongated cigar-shaped celestial body. It moved so fast that it could not be part of our solar system. It had to be a foreign object, and was called ‘Oumuamua (Hawaiian for ‘First Messenger from Afar’). 2 Strange Coincidence It is comparatively rare that asteroids from distant star systems get lost in our solar system. According to Loeb, the likelihood of seeing such asteroids through Pan-Starrs is somewhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 100,000,000. 3 Flashes The brightness of ‘Oumuamua fluctuates: the object rotates and reflects, due to its special shape, different amounts of sunlight. The effect is so pronounced that ‘Oumuamua would have to have a bizarre, elongated form – something which does not occur in celestial bodies of our solar system. 4 Enigmatic Trajectory ‘Oumuamua shows a trajectory departure from that known for comets that leave a trail of gases (typically surface ice that evaporates). Also, neither a comet tail could be observed, nor did the rotation of the object change, as would be expected with loss of mass due to gas emissions. 5 Not Solar Powered For Avi Loeb, the only other assumption could be that the solar power (radiation pressure) affected the trajectory of ‘Oumuamua. However, this force is so weak that it could only affect bodies with a large surface area and tiny mass, such as a paper-thin sail. 6 Not Space Junk If such an artificial light sail or other object reached our solar system by accident, one would have to assume that in space such foreign artefacts would abound (which is not the case). So this possibility also seems unlikely. 7 Alien Mission Loeb therefore suspects that an extraterrestrial civilization has purposefully sent ‘Oumuamua as an exploratory probe in our solar system.
Here are my (amateur quality) pictures I took of tonight’s super blood wolf moon* as it went into eclipse. It’s the first total lunar eclipse visible across the entire United States in eight years.
*Super because it appears about 10% bigger than it really is; blood because of its coppery color (red light from the sun bent around Earth, reaching it); wolf because it is the first full moon of the calendar year.