Extinction, Meet Climate Change

Image via NPR.org

That big off-white thing sticking out of that bedrock is a tusk from a Wooly Mammoth. Yeah, those Wooly Mammoths from pre-historic days. A group of students from the University of Virginia were on a research trip to Alaska and they saw this while traveling down the Koyukuk River:

“We’re on this trip to basically to study the arctic, the idea of the arctic as a sanctuary,” said Epstein. “We did a river float trip, as part of what we’re doing and the mammoth tusk was pointed out to us. It’s amazing! During the time of the last glaciation and timing of the Bering Land Bridge, or what we call the mammoth steppe, that area was populated by lots of grazing animals, the mammoth being one of them. It’s not surprising that you’ll see this, but it’s also amazing to see in person.”

The metaphor that can be taken from this photo is not lost on me. This is especially true with water levels across several major rivers and lakes in North America at historic lows, exposing some amazing and sometimes grizzly finds – including two long dead bodies in Nevada’s Lake Mead.

Why America’s medical professionals are petrified about this winter and the Coronavirus

From the LA Times:

If you want to know why public health officials are so nervous about how much worse the COVID-19 pandemic will get as the holiday season unfolds, consider what happened after a single, smallish wedding reception that took place this summer in rural Maine.

Only 55 people attended the Aug. 7 reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket. But one of those guests arrived with a coronavirus infection. Over the next 38 days, the virus spread to 176 other people. Seven of them died.

None of the victims who lost their lives had attended the party.

Over the past few weeks, as we all know by now, the volume of cases in the United States has exploded to levels that have exceeded the worst days of the pandemic from this past spring. The current administration has had one meeting of their COVID Task Force since mid October, and that was only held this week, likely because of peer pressure since President-elect Joe Biden has already created a COVID task force and held their first meeting on Tuesday. The current President is in a self-imposed ‘time out’ where he’s spent the past week pouting about losing the general election, while the rest of the country is drowning in COVID outbreaks.

The most infuriating aspect of this whole pandemic is that most of this carnage was preventable. If the current President had just acted on the intelligence that he received in December of 2019, instead of waiting until January 18th to take his first meeting with Health & Human Services officials, it is reasonable to deduce we could have prevented more than half of the 240,000+ deaths that we have had so far as a result of the virus if people and the administration had listened to medical professionals and promoted the idea of wearing a mask. Instead, the president undermined the message from the very beginning and turned it into a political issue. Let that sink in. Instead of me trying to explain this any further, just watch John Oliver explain it in plain terms:

So now, we are heading into the holiday season, where families usually get together and the weather is starting to get much colder. It is inevitable that the Coronavirus may explode beyond the alarming numbers we are seeing today.

Has the Coronavirus ‘magically gone away’? I don’t think so.

Another Illustration of Why Social Distancing Is So Important

So you may have seen videos from a few weeks ago of college aged “Spring Breakers” in Florida completely ignoring the guidance to ‘social distance’

“If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna let it stop me from partying”

NOTE: To the kid’s credit, he did apologize for the tone deaf comment, however the damage was done.

To further illustrate how important it is to practice ‘social distancing’ during this time to prevent the acceleration of COVID-19, a data tracking service called Tectonix GEO (a little self-serving but that’s another story) demonstrated how one specific cluster of ‘spring breakers’ on a beach in Fort Lauderdale – where if even one of them had the virus – could/would/did exponentially spread it throughout the country.

Each little dot on this screen grab above represents a mobile device. So first thing they did was highlight a fairly small but specific set of devices located on the beach in Fort Lauderdale a couple of weeks ago. From there, using what they called a ‘spider query’, they then tracked the movement of those specific devices over the next few weeks to demonstrate how this one isolated beach gathering could rapidly and exponentially spread the virus.

That is pretty much the clearest demonstration of how important ‘social distancing’ is in combating the spread of this virus. I mean, seriously look at that map. That small cluster of phones on the beach in Florida essentially distributed out to every state east of the Mississippi and few west of there.

Now, to really make you shudder, think of this same scenario playing out repeatedly in NY or Chicago or San Francisco. In fact, we saw it play out in real time with the first really publicized case out of New Rochelle, NY. That one lawyer who had the virus, went into and out of NYC without knowing he had it, and through community spread, easily exposed upwards of 1,000 people to the virus before anyone knew.

You can watch the full demo below (only a minute long):

Visualization of Past Pandemics

Great visualization and fact based article detailing some of Earth’s most significant pandemics, going all the way back to Justinian in the 5th Century. While we are in the early stages of the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) and we have yet to determine the long term human impact of this outbreak, this visual does put it in perspective compared to the Black Death/Bubonic Plague of the 1300’s and the Spanish Flu of the early 20th Century.

What is interesting as noted in the article is how the rise of urbanization, globalization, and the ease in which society can now travel around the world has been a key driver of the spread of pandemic incidents:

We arrive at where we began, with rising global connections and interactions as a driving force behind pandemics. From small hunting and gathering tribes to the metropolis, humanity’s reliance on one another has also sparked opportunities for disease to spread.

Urbanization in the developing world is bringing more and more rural residents into denser neighborhoods, while population increases are putting greater pressure on the environment. At the same time, passenger air traffic nearly doubled in the past decade. These macro trends are having a profound impact on the spread of infectious disease.

As organizations and governments around the world ask for citizens to practice social distancing to help reduce the rate of infection, the digital world is allowing people to maintain connections and commerce like never before.

Nicholas LePan, Visual Capitalist

Handy Dandy Map of Math

It is likely that discussing Math may emote a visceral reaction from people of all shapes and types. While there are some out there that adore numbers, there are probably many more that physically recoil at the sight of math problems. For those who are fascinated by how math works or are just interested in digging into how math can literally describe and impact every single thing within the universe, the good folks over at Quanta Magazine have developed a Map of Mathematics. It is a really neat and intuitively interactive map that breaks down the dependencies and interdependencies of different levels of Mathematics, going from the basics of Numbers, Shapes, and Change, to things like Prime Reciprocity, Continuous Symmetries, and Einstein’s Equations.

The discussion, analysis and obsession with Prime Numbers is one that goes back millennia and has spawned all sorts of theories:

Prime numbers are whole numbers larger than 1 that are not divisible by any whole number apart from 1 and themselves. They’re like the atoms of number theory — you can use primes to make any other number.

In the third century B.C., Euclid proved that there are infinitely many primes. He argued that if we multiply all known primes together and add 1, then either this new number N is prime, or N can be divided by a number that’s not on our original list of primes — a new prime. This proves infinitude, but it’s stillborn as a technique: It tells us nothing about the distribution of primes and provides no way to investigate further questions about them.

Today, mathematicians are interested in understanding how often primes occur.

Number theorists create functions of real or complex variables, called analytic functions, that let them study questions about prime numbers. For example, they might ask: Approximately how many primes exist in a short interval? Or in how many ways can a natural number be expressed as a sum of three squares? Analytic functions have properties that address these questions.

The field dates back to the work of Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet in the 19th century. Dirichlet studied “arithmetic progressions,” the list of numbers we get by starting with a natural number A and adding to it multiples of a natural number B. For example, with A = 4 and B = 7 we get: 4, 11, 18, 25, and so on. Dirichlet used analytic functions to prove that as long as A and B don’t have any common prime factor (as in our example), such an arithmetic progression must contain infinitely many primes.

Shapes have long been able to be described and defined using simple to complex math formulas. Interestingly, some of the hardest shapes to define via math are those that have 3 or 4 dimensions.

Mathematicians have understood one- and two-dimensional manifolds since the 19th century. A surprising discovery in the mid-20th century was that shapes with five or more dimensions are also relatively easy to analyze — those extra dimensions provide mathematicians with more room to maneuver, which allows them to bring more techniques to bear. Many of the hardest open problems in topology are in dimensions three and four, where mathematicians still search for a better understanding of how to tell manifolds apart and how to understand the characteristics that distinguish them.

You could get lost in this map of Math for hours. Some of the theories are mind bending on the highest order, yet this interactive map does an exceptional job of making the complex read clearly and succinctly. In today’s data driven world, getting a better grasp of Math concepts and theory may be a good career move.

NASA Re-Opened Apollo Mission Control

Photo Credit: NY Times

Now this is super cool. Hopefully this will put to rest some of those consipracy theories saying that the whole Apollo mission was a hoax.

From The NY Times:

Four long rows of pale green consoles fill the room. There are white panels overhead and beige new carpet below. Lights dance purposefully on the consoles, with each one playing Apollo-accurate video broadcasts as would have been seen at the time of the moon landings, or displaying grids of numbers and prehistoric computer code. On four giant displays in the room’s front are maps, matrices and astronaut positional plots.

On the consoles are the objects seen in photographs from the Apollo era. Ashtrays and coffee cups, staplers and stopwatches, pens and pencils, headsets and rotary dial phones. There are mission control manuals three inches thick and canisters for pneumatic tubes. Binders and eyeglasses and cigar boxes sit next to cans of RC Cola and packs of Winston cigarettes. The room is a museum piece, and yet it is alive, as though engineers stepped out briefly but would be right back. Every item is authentic, painstakingly researched from grainy photographs.

“It was a herculean effort by the team to really pull off what we pulled off in that room today,” said Jennifer Keys, the project manager of the restoration team.

Peering Into The Abyss

The Event Horizon Telescope, named for a Black Hole’s point of no return, was able to capture the first image of a actual Black Hole, with the help of several other telescopes around the world and a multitude of scientists.

The image, of a lopsided ring of light surrounding a dark circle deep in the heart of the galaxy known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from here, resembled the Eye of Sauron, a reminder yet again of the power and malevolence of nature. It is a smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity.

Dennis Overbye, The NY Times

Mr. Overbye from the NY Times does a spectacular job of explaining the science behind the discovery and the overall process that scientists used to get to this point. I highly recommend reading the article in full.

The methodology and approach used to make this discovery essentially was a massive ‘proof’ that Einstein’s theory of releativity is accurate beyond any sort of reasonable doubt (if there ever was any doubt). His theory basically stipulated that gravity has the ability to warp time and space, and black holes are the result when that warping becomes so powerful that nothing can escape it.

The actual image of the black hole was interesting and revealing, compared to depictions in popular culture, in that surrounding the black hole is a ring of matter and energy so powerful that it is glowing “like the Eye of Sauron” as Mr. Overbye described.

The process the scientists used to capture and evaluate the images was really interesting – they basically used a multitude of telescopes around the world in a manner similar to how a computer engineer would use mulitple servers in tandem to creat a powerful super-computer. In an irony that illustrates the limitations mere mortals on Earth have, the volume of data and images captured by these telescopes was so massive that it could not be transmitted over the internet, and in turn had to be put on massive discs and shipped to a few labs around the world for analysis.

Plans are to keep monitoring this, and other, black holes over time and observe any changes or differences in behavior.

This sort of visual discovery opens up so many questions in my mind. What would happen, in the unlikely scenario where a living being would be able to pass through that “Event Horizon”? What is behind it? Would it act as a portal and transmit things somewhere the way it was depicted in the movie Interstellar? Or, as science defines, would it simply evicerate anything that comes close to it? Stuff like this is so interesting and facinating.

Stephen Hawking’s Ph.D. Thesis From 1966

Professor Hawking’s Ph.D. thesis was released to the public for the first time by the University of Cambridge in England. It quickly became so popular that it crashed the university’s servers (so, the previous link to the document may be a little flakly, obvs):

“Properties of Expanding Universes”, which Hawking wrote when he was a 24-year-old graduate student in 1965, long before he became one of the world’s most famous scientists, is now available to all, with its faded typewriter-keystrokes and scrawled handwriting.

We have had a huge response to Professor Hawking’s decision to make his PhD thesis publicly available to download, with almost 60,000 downloads in less than 24 hours, said Stuart Roberts, a spokesman for the University of Cambridge.

As a result, visitors to our open access site may find that it is performing slower than usual and may at times be temporarily unavailable.

I love how proper the University’s response was to their system crashing. Carry on.