Archive for the ‘science’ category

The Guilty Pleasures of “BattleBots”

June 21, 2019

  

Robotic fighters have long been a recurring theme in science fiction, and an object of fascination to males like myself who refused to grow up.  From the Richard Matheson story to its adaptation in the Twilight Zone episode “Steel,” inspiration was drawn for the Hugh Jackman movie, “Real Steel.”  As an enabling step towards realization of those fantasies, we also have airing on The Discovery Channel the BattleBots series, a place where the pugilistic arts meet high technology in an arena of mechanical mayhem.

Now the tone of these different sagas varies greatly, with Steel as shown on The Twilight Zone dark and dystopian, and set in the then-distant future world of…(gasp)…1974!  Good ole Battling Maxo could no longer hold his own against the more advanced models then.  Far more family-friendly was Real Steel, a movie more centered upon the relationship of a father and son than upon the robots themselves.  The weekly BattleBots series is a strange spectacle featuring teams of bright people from around the world who at times don costumes and whoop and yell as they yet intently field weaponized remotely-controlled devices against one another in a containing area.  Their creations, often resembling lawn mowers from hell, inflict damage upon their opponents until an adversary is unable to operate, or time for a match runs out.  Although not choreographed, matches borrow from “over-the-top” traditions of professional wrestling, complete with a ring announcer, commentators, and a whipped-up audience waving signs…

…Now, it might be interesting to see some cross-over action on BattleBots, such as seeing those ‘bots versus a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica, or perhaps a Dalek from Dr. Who.- – That ought to drive up the old ratings!

 

“Strange Evidence” Predator Resurrection

February 10, 2019

The Strange Evidence series on the Science (SCI) channel is one of the better shows currently televised on unexplained phenomena and scientific speculation. If somewhat uneven and episodic, the shows have decent production values and offer commentary and opinions by scientists as well as observers of the topics under consideration.  It’s a mixture of the far out and things that just might be possible; I like it!

With each installment comprised of several segments, the S1/Ep10 offering included camera trap footage taken in Tasmania in 2016 of an animal unfamiliar to observers that may have been a Tasmanian tiger, a species thought to have been hunted to extinction in the 1930’s with the last specimen in captivity (above) having died in 1936. Actually a marsupial, the Tas tiger was wolf-like with stripes and a long, inflexible tail. Due to the low resolution of the film taken, experts consulted could not conclusively identify the animal present, and thought it might have been a quoll, which is a smaller carnivorous mammal common to Tasmania.

So is the Tasmanian tiger still out there?  I remain skeptical, but stranger things have happened…

Autonomous, Ambulatory Robots…

February 5, 2019


Submitted for your approval is Marty, an autonomous, ambulatory robot deployed at my local supermarket to look for spills and trash. He approached me noisily from behind, beeping and flashing lights, and at first I didn’t know what was going on! Was someone pushing this thing, inside it, or remotely controlling it? — Nope, nope, and nope…but you don’t have to fear Marty.  They pasted on those ridiculous, googly eyes so as not to project a Darth Vader vibe, although that might be interesting…

Vader ‘Bot:  “I find your lack of fresh produce purchases disturbing…”

Customer:  “Alright,  just stop force-choking me,  jeez!  I’m throwing in cabbages, see?”

Vader ‘Bot:  “The General Manager will be pleased, but pray you do not require a further demonstration…”

While it will be some time before Rosie the robot from The Jetsons will be among us, the ‘bots are coming!    Marty is far from being C-3PO, but give it another ten years or so, and they could be seeking a piece of your action… 

 

High Octopi…

September 24, 2018

 

There are worse things to do to an octopus than make them high; like eating them, perhaps.  Octopuses are also normally rather antisocial creatures to the extent that they’ll fight each other to the death, much like Republicans and Democrats.

Their antisocial tendencies together with their intelligence made them alluring subjects to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who environmentally exposed octopuses to MDMA, the psychoactive ingredient in the party drug ecstasy.  The serotonin-enhanced octopuses were then allowed access to separate chambers in one of which resided Star Wars action figures, while the other housed an undrugged male octopus.

The drugged octopuses forsook Chewbacca and a storm trooper to go all touchy-feely on the other octopus, wanting to hang out with and touch him!  Although their brains are vastly different from human, octopus behavior on the drug was similar to that of humans in terms of enhancing social behaviors.  With six more arms to hug with, it must have been quite a love-in (“His tentacles seemed to be everywhere!,” she testified).

The social enhancement behaviors were seen only in octopuses given exposure to an MDMA dosage equivalent to what a human might take; higher dosage levels resulted in the creatures lying around and staring at things, again much like humans.  And if you see a huggy octopus hanging around, please don’t send them my way.  I’ve nothing against them, but I only party with mammals… (Octopus’s Garden by The Beatles plays in the background)

Mysterious Wolf-Like Creature Identified!

June 19, 2018

 

Well, campers, we had earlier reported how a large, wolf-like creature was shot and killed by a rancher in Montana, with its identity puzzling local wildlife experts, and causing a social media tizzy around the nation.– Was this creature a dire wolf?– –  An unusual bear? – – A hybrid?- – Bigfoot?  Following DNA testing at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service forensic laboratory In Ashland, Oregon the results are finally in, and our mystery wolf-like creature is…(drum roll, please)...a wolf!

Hah! – – Bet you never saw that coming!  Confusion over the animal’s identity may have been caused by it’s external appearance, with the creature appearing to have short legs and big ears, but otherwise found to be a gray wolf from the northern Rocky Mountains.  According to a geneticist for the U.S. Wildlife Service, physical variations aren’t unusual for animals.  As with humans, we tend to have unrealistic expectations about animal appearances.  

So move along, folks…nothing to see here!  And there are still around 900 wolves roaming Montana…

Reptilian Mammal Fossil Found!

June 3, 2018


Evolution is perhaps coolest when we can discover examples of its transitional phases, and this little guy whose cranium was discovered nearly intact in Utah fits that bill.  Small but mighty, he weighed in at under three pounds and stood only about three inches tall.  He could probably give you a nasty bite on your ankle…

Resembling fossils previously found only in Eurasia and North Africa, the 130-million year old remains indicate that the supercontinent Pangea held together for about 15 million years, considerably longer than previously suspected, allowing for the spread of early mammals such as these and for their exploration of ecological niches.  Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch here was fur covered and suckled their young but laid eggs, similar to the modern-day platypus.  

Described as snout-bearing and catlike with buck teeth, the critter was discovered by accident amidst a cluster of larger dinosaur bones as they were being extracted, under the foot of one of them…ouch!  Just don’t dig up your basement looking for another one…

Resurrect the Tasmanian Tiger!

May 4, 2018

   

The Tasmanian tiger or thylacine became extinct over 80 years ago when the last living specimen died at the Hobart Zoo in Washington D.C. in 1936.  But with the aide of gene editing and pickled thylacine pups, scientists may literally bring this awesome creature back to life again!

In December of 2017, scientists from the University of Melbourne sequenced the entire genome of this extinct Australian beast using thirteen thylacine joeys preserved in alcohol.  Such information could within the next decade be used to bring the unique marsupial back from the dead, with gene-editing used to bridge the gap between thylacines, which have no living relatives, and other existent species.  

Poor genetic diversity and overhunting by humans played roles in the demise of the Tasmanian tiger, which remain an iconic animal in the Australian imagination.  The government paid people to shoot Tasmanian thylacines in the 1800’s due to fears that they destroyed sheep.  Some maintain that the tassie tiger is not extinct, however, but just very good at hiding, with video footage of a bizarre hopping creature taken in North Queensland in 2015.  Wildlife experts, however, remain skeptical of the grainy, unclear, and inconclusive video…

…and wouldn’t “Pickled Thylacine Pups” be a great name for a band?!