Sunday, December 31, 2017

I Wanna See a UFO This Year

U.F.O.s: Is This All There Is?

A U.F.O. in New Mexico in 1957. For astronomers, the biggest problem with alien visitation is not the occasional claim of mysterious light in the sky, but the fact that we’re not constantly overwhelmed with them. Credit Bettmann, via Getty Images
Hey, Mr. Spaceman,
Won’t you please take me along?
I won’t do anything wrong.
Hey, Mr. Spaceman,
Won’t you please take me along for a ride?

So sang the Byrds in 1966, after strange radio bursts from distant galaxies called quasars had excited people about the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.

I recalled those words recently when reading the account of a pair of Navy pilots who were outmaneuvered and outrun by a U.F.O. off the coast of San Diego back in 2004. Cmdr. David Fravor said later that he had no idea what he had seen.

“But,” he added, “I want to fly one.”

His story was part of a bundle of material released recently about a supersecret $22 million Pentagon project called the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program, aimed at investigating U.F.O.s. The project was officially killed in 2012, but now it’s being resurrected as a nonprofit organization.

Disgruntled that the government wasn’t taking the possibility of alien visitors seriously, a group of former defense officials, aerospace engineers and other space fans have set up their own group, To the Stars Academy of Arts & Science. One of its founders is Tom DeLonge, a former punk musician, record producer and entrepreneur, who is also the head of the group’s entertainment division.

For a minimum of $200, you can join and help finance their research into how U.F.O.s do whatever it is they do, as well as telepathy and “a point-to-point transportation craft that will erase the current travel limits of distance and time” by using a drive that “alters the space-time metric” — that is, a warp drive going faster than the speed of light, Einstein’s old cosmic speed limit.

“We believe there are transformative discoveries within our reach that will revolutionize the human experience, but they can only be accomplished through the unrestricted support of breakthrough research, discovery and innovation,” says the group’s website.
A U.F.O. spotted by Navy pilots near San Diego in 2004. Credit Department of Defense
I’m not holding my breath waiting for progress on telepathy or warp drive, but I agree with at least one thing that one official with the group said. That was Steve Justice, a former engineer at Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works, where advanced aircraft like the SR-71 high-altitude super-fast spy plane were designed.

“How dare we think that the physics we have today is all that there is,” he said in an interview published recently in HuffPost.

I could hardly agree more, having spent my professional life in the company of physicists and astronomers trying to poke out of the cocoon of present knowledge into the unknown, to overturn Einstein and what passes for contemporary science. Lately, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

The last time physicists had to deal with faster-than-light travel was six years ago, when a group of Italy-based physicists announced that they had seen the subatomic particles known as neutrinos going faster than light. It turned out they had wired up their equipment wrong.

So far Einstein is still the champ. But surely there is so much more to learn. A lot of surprises lie ahead, but many of the most popular ideas on how to transcend Einstein and his peers are on the verge of being ruled out. Transforming science is harder than it looks.

While there is a lot we don’t know, there is also a lot we do know. We know how to turn on our computers and let gadgets in our pocket navigate the world. We know that when physical objects zig and zag through a medium like air, as U.F.O.s are said to do, they produce turbulence and shock waves. NASA engineers predicted to the minute when the Cassini spacecraft would dwindle to a wisp of smoke in Saturn’s atmosphere last fall.

In moments like this, I take comfort in what the great Russian physicist and cosmologist Yakov Zeldovich, one of the fathers of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, once told me. “What science has already taken, it will not give back,” he said.

Scientists are not the killjoys in all this.

In the astronomical world, the border between science fact and science fiction can be very permeable, perhaps because many scientists grew up reading science fiction. And astronomers forever have their noses pressed up against the window of the unknown. 

They want to believe more than anybody, and I count myself among them.
Since the asteroid named Oumuamua was first noticed flying through our solar system in October, researchers have been monitoring for alien signals, so far to no avail. Credit M. Kornmesser/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
But they are also trained to look at nature with ruthless rigor and skepticism. For astronomers, the biggest problem with E.T. is not the occasional claim of a mysterious light in the sky, but the fact that we are not constantly overwhelmed with them.

Half a century ago, the legendary physicist Enrico Fermi concluded from a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation that even without warp drive, a single civilization could visit and colonize all the planets in the galaxy in a fraction of the 10-billion-year age of the Milky Way.

“Where are they?” he asked.

Proponents of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, have been debating ever since. One answer I like is the “zoo hypothesis,” according to which we have been placed off-limits, a cosmic wildlife refuge.

Another answer came from Jill Tarter, formerly the director of research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. “We haven’t looked hard enough,” she said when I asked her recently.

If there was an iPhone sitting under a rock on the Moon or Mars, for example, we would not have found it yet. Our own latest ideas for interstellar exploration involve launching probes the size of postage stamps to Alpha Centauri.

In the next generation, they might be the size of mosquitoes. By contrast, the dreams of some U.F.O. enthusiasts are stuck in 1950s technology.

Still, we keep trying.

Last fall when a strange object — an interstellar asteroid now named Oumuamua — was found cruising through the solar system, astronomers’ thoughts raced to the Arthur C. Clarke novel “Rendezvous With Rama,” in which the object was an alien spaceship. Two groups have been monitoring Oumuamua for alien radio signals, so far to no avail.

Meanwhile, some astronomers have speculated that the erratic dimming of a star known as “Boyajian’s star” or “Tabby’s star,” after the astronomer Tabetha Boyajian, could be caused by some gigantic construction project orbiting the star. So far that has not worked out, but none of the other explanations — dust or a fleet of comets — have, either.

O-Shōgatsu at Honsenji-temple

A monk of Honsen-ji Temple in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward overlooks an annual rite in which talismans from the previous year are incinerated in a bonfire. | YOSHIAKI MIURA

The annual rites of passage into the new year

The Japan Times  Staff report
On New Year’s Eve, people across Japan marked the passing of 2017 and the arrival of the new year at temples and shrines, both big and small.

While the evening of o-shōgatsu is celebrated in numerous ways, for many it is a time for spiritual purification and prayer spent with family and friends.

Temple visitors traditionally pray at the temple altar after giving a small donation and buy paper fortunes (omikuji) and talismans (omamori) for the coming year at temple-run stalls.

As is customary at many temples, visitors to Honsenji Temple in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward brought lucky charms and decorations from the previous year to be burned at a rite called otakiage overseen by the temple monks.
Another annual ritual is joyo no kane — the traditioanl ringing of the temple bell 108 times. According to Buddhist beliefs, the ringing represents the process of ridding mankind of worldly desires that have accumulated over the year.

At some temples, visitors can line up and get a chance to bong the bell with a large wooden pillar.
Honsenji-temple , Kaishozan Fumonin Honsen-ji Temple, at Shinagawa on Dec.31, 2017. ''Otakiage'' .YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Kitty Whiskers 101

How do Cats Use Their Whiskers? Slow-Motion - Cats Uncovered - BBC

BBC Earth  Published on Dec 9, 2015  4 min. 18 sec.

How do cats use their whiskers to catch their prey? Using slow motion you can see the whiskers move into an attack position... Taken from Cats Uncovered. Subscribe to BBC Earth: Earth YouTube Channel:

Have You Met Lucas?

Lucas the Spider

Lucas the Spider  Published on Nov 5, 2017 20 sec.

Lucas the Spider - Playtime

Lucas the Spider  Published on Dec 24, 2017  21 sec.

Lucas the Adorable Spider Wants to Come Inside

Storyful Rights Management  Published on Dec 5, 2017  39 sec.


Meet Lucas, An Adorable Spider Who May Just Cure Your Arachnophobia

Don't you just want to give him a snuggle?

I am not a spider person.  I don’t like them. Spiders rank right up there with rats, birds and snakes in my big book of fears. But there’s one spider who could change everything. He is ADORABLE. In fact, I want to hold him, squeeze him and put him in my pocket.

Meet Lucas the Spider. His big eyes and furry little body make him look like a Beanie Boo we all want to snuggle.

Lucas is the creation of animator Joshua Slice, who also happened to work on some blockbuster hits like “Epic” and “Zootopia.” For this short Slice asked his nephew, also named Lucas, to voice his happy spider. The video posted on Nov. 5 already has over 4.8 million views on YouTube.
Looking at this too adorable animated spider, I had to know if spiders this cute exist in real life. So I called my sister, North Carolina State University entomologist, Dr. Holly Menninger, to find out.

“I think Lucas is pretty stinking cute and the animator was clearly inspired by jumping spiders who are hairy and have big eyes that they use to visually detect while hunting prey,” she said. However, she noted Slice might have over-exaggerated the main pair of eyes just a tad.

Slice shared his impossibly cute arachnid on YouTube as an animation test character he’s been working on. “I’m responsible for the design, modeling, rigging, animation, lighting, and rendering,” he wrote.

Well done, sir. If Lucas is a test, we think he passed, and so do a lot of Twitter users.

As for Slice, he is grateful for the outpouring of love he has received for his friendly spider. The animator took to Facebook to thank his many fans.

Silly Medieval GIFs!

GIFs by Scorpion Dagger found HERE

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Are You a Rabbit or a Cat?

Why no year of the Cat?

Vietnamese Year of the Cat stamps

chinablog   Jan 16, 2009

Storyteller: According to Chinese lunar calender, the Chinese new year is coming soon. In 2009, Jan 25th is the new year eve; Jan 26th is new year’s day.We are going to say goodbye to the awful 2008 (the year of rat) and hello to a brand new 2009 (the year of ox).  If you have some impression about Chinese zodiac 12 animals, probably you have a question in your mind: where is cat, why is cat not on the list?  Don’t Chinese people love cat?  Yes, we do.  Since the domestication by ancient Egyptian, cat has become a worldwide house animal and one of the best friend of human beings. Chinese people love cats too.  So why cat is not on the list? There are many explanations.  Let’s start with folktales first.

Folktale 1:


One day, the Jade Emperor initially selected 12 animal, and told the cat to inform the rest 11, in which the rat is not included.  The rat heard this information by eavesdropping when the cat told the ox. The rat secretly came to the heaven palace and registered for the first position before everyone else. The stupid Jade Emperor didn’t even check the authenticity of the Rat’s registration. Then the first informed Ox only got second position. Finished informing everyone and came back for his own position, did the cat only to find that no position left for him anymore. So rat is the first and no cat. From then on, cat and rat became life enemies.

Folktale 2: 


Once, the Jade Emperor thought it’s better to assign an animal for each year so people can remember the Zodiac cycle easier. So he decided to hold a meeting with all the animals and he will elect 12 of them to be the Zodiac animals in the meeting. At that time, cat and rat are close friends, just like brothers. They are very excited for the meeting and decided to go together.  The cat is a sleepyhead, hardly woke up before noon. Night before the meeting, he ask the rat to wake him up the next morning.  The rat agreed: No problem, take it easy, I will wake you up for sure! The cat felt assured and had a sweet dream. The next morning, the rat got up early and quietly, washed and brushed, left for the meeting alone.

When the cat woke up afternoon, he knew it’s too late.  The news about newly selected 12 animals were everywhere; and the rat is the first of them.  Felt betrayed by the rat, from then on, the cat turned into rat’s enemy. So that’s also why cats are always chasing  after rats.



The two folktales above are the most typical and most funny ones. I like them. But probably you will doubt that’s the truth.  12 animals for the Chinese zodiac must have been developed in the early stage of Chinese civilization for hundreds of year until it become the current edition; and it’s very hard to investigate the real origin.  As to the absence of Cat, most historians agree that Chinese zodiac 12 animal were formed before cats were introduced to China from India with Buddhism.  So the answer is clear: There is no cat on the list because Chinese people never knew a cat at  that time.

 Vietnam’s edition has Cat:

Just some additional information on this topic, although Vietnam adapted 12 animal zodiac from China, their edition is a little different. They have Cat in it, while Rabbit is dropped off. Why? Not sure. One explanation is that the “Rabbit” pronunciation in Chinese sounds like “Cat” in Vietnamese, so they made a mistake.
(As the picture left shown.)

Ok, so much for the Cat and Zodiac, wish everyone a happy new year 2009, the year of ox (or bull).

[Recommended Reading on Amazon]

1. A story book about 12 animals: The Great Race

2. A book about Chinese Astrology: Chinese Astrology: Exploring The Eastern Zodiac
[Chinese Keyword]
猫年 十二生肖


Read more about the Vietnamese zodiac HERE

Worth Considering - I Don't Know if I Buy It

A group of common myna and a cattle egret birds sit on top of a rhinoceros inside the Kaziranga National Park, about 250 km away from Guwahati city, India. Credit European Pressphoto Agency 

We Aren’t Destroying the Earth

Since humanity left Africa some tens of thousands of years ago, large land animals across the world have had a mysterious habit of dying out: giant kangaroo, woolly mammoth, glyptodont, to name a few. As Alfred Russel Wallace put it, we live in a world that lacks “all the hugest, and fiercest, and strangest” animals. It’s no wonder that invasive species are considered a big threat to wildlife, and none more so than the one species invasive on six out of seven continents: us.

Hence the “ecological despair” that the conservation biologist Chris Thomas identifies early in his provocative new book. “A mass extinction is in full swing, and prognoses for the future seem dire. 

For these reasons, we have gone so far as to describe ourselves as the scourge of the Earth, and as exceeding our planetary boundaries,” he writes. But Thomas is not interested in feeding this despair. Rather, he makes an argument considered apostasy by many: People’s impact on the planet has not been that catastrophic.

In other words, nature is more complicated, as the book explores in some detail. People spreading out across the globe and building international trade networks have reunited the continents in a kind of virtual supercontinent, mixing plant, animal, microbe and fungal species in a way unseen since Pangaea, more than 200 million years ago. Human alterations to the planet’s surface — like the conversion of most of the world’s grasslands into pasture and crops — have transformed the environment in which all other species thrive or die. As a result, some plants, animals, microbes and fungi win, and some lose.

Consider the sparrow. This bird of the Asian steppe has spread across the world because of all the man-made farms, towns and cities that resemble their original habitat. Plus the unique nature of man plays a role. In fact, just one man, whose name we know — Eugene Schieffelin — is responsible for first releasing into North America the millions of sparrows we know today, mostly because the immigrant bird was mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare. There are an estimated half-billion of these birds around the world now, and they are breaking up into independent species.

The book is filled with such lovely anecdotes, many from Thomas’s own rich life of natural adventure, whether surveying sparrows in Italy or encountering pygmy elephants in Borneo. And though there are few flourishes in the writing, for a scientist, the prose is remarkably clear, if a bit repetitive at times.

The repetition serves a purpose though. Thomas is building a case, not telling a story. He argues that new species are arriving and evolving faster than old species are dying out globally. In the Atlantic region of Brazil, for example, one type of bird has been lost — Alagoas curassow R.I.P. — but two species have been gained: the cattle egret and the cattle-tyrant. There are more species of plants and animals in the tropics, therefore more species like it hot than cold, therefore maybe global warming will be good for more kinds of plants and animals. “Come back in a million years and we might” — by unleashing warm-weather biodiversity on the rest of the planet — “be looking at several million additional species whose existence can be attributed to the activities of humans,” Thomas writes.

Instead of a sixth extinction, it’s a sixth genesis.

The human impact on the course of evolution is clear — more types of species derived from sparrows, rats and eucalyptus. Thomas offers four rules for how we might cope with this brave new world he dubs Anthropocene Park: accept change, maintain flexibility (perhaps by swapping one species for another), acknowledge ourselves as a natural force and live within our means.

It’s the latter that seems like the biggest challenge currently, to this reader’s eyes. “Nature is fighting back” is a nice idea, but the reality is that Earth’s life revives only when we take the pressure off and let it. Actually fighting back would be a valid way to describe the present state of the environment only if there were some new hunter to prey on humans or perhaps a virus that lays our species low.

And Thomas relays only a little of the wonder of nature, like the evolution of a fly’s superpowered hearing to track down and find crickets. There is little recognition that such superpowers may be disappearing without our even knowing it, as the loser species fade away or the crickets learn to be silent. The mourned dead, like the great auk, the penguin of the north, only occasionally intrude.
Thomas relegates the ecosystem that covers some 70 percent of the Earth’s surface — the ocean — to a few perfunctory mentions. The resilience he otherwise locates on land might be harder to find there, thanks to human impacts like the reduction of the amount of oxygen in the water or its increasing acidity. When it comes to the ocean, we may not know enough even to know what we don’t know, or have already lost.

And even Thomas admits that the total number of species worldwide is down. As the ecologist Anthony Barnosky has calculated, we’ve already driven 1,000-plus species extinct, with another 20,000 or more in that dreadful queue.

“Who will remember even 100 years from now that the last individual of Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog passed away on 26 September 2016,” Thomas writes. One can hope this book will help. We do remember Martha, the last passenger pigeon, or Cecil the lion and Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise. We need to preserve as many different species and habitats as possible on this “global Ark,” Thomas thinks. “We might presume that some presently rare species will be valuable to us in future — although we do not yet know which.” That certainly argues for keeping as many species around as possible, much as ecology’s forefather Aldo Leopold urged: “If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Instead we are busily creating a homogeneous world, the diversity of plants and animals replaced by 22 billion chickens, 1.5 billion cattle, 1.2 billion sheep and a billion each for goats and pigs, a mix of species determined by the 7.5 billion Homo sapiens on the planet. If all those livestock were to disappear, we would eat through the remaining large animals in a month.

It is human concerns that determine everything here on Earth now. An animal that arrived in a particular location hundreds or thousands of years ago is fine with us, while a more recent immigrant, like garlic mustard, is cause for alarm and extensive campaigns to extirpate the interloper. Nostalgia is deadly, as people kill to preserve or restore some ill-remembered but more natural past, and we disdain new species as weeds. Anthropocene Park is truly a strange world in which people fly all over to see rare or declining animals and plants, emitting the greenhouse gases that may make those animals and plants extinct — an estimated 10 percent of land species may die off as a result of climate change, as Thomas notes. We are picking winners and saving losers and perhaps one day soon could make genetic changes to turn losers into winners. Maybe we want to get really crazy and set kangaroos loose everywhere in the world, Thomas suggests at one point.

That may sound a bit too much, but despair is all too easy these days. The vaquita, a tiny porpoise that lives in the Gulf of California, is on the verge of extinction, down to as few as 30 individuals as of this writing. Yet people have trained dolphins for military purposes that can now perhaps be used to herd their tiny cousin into refuges, where humans can work feverishly to save them, as we have done with the California condor or black-footed ferret. There has been a cultural transition away from killing animals for fun, food or fur and toward saving life. It’s not too late: The vast majority of species on the planet today can be saved. We still have a choice in how we end up changing the world.

David Biello is the science curator for TED Talks and the author of “The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth’s Newest Age.”


How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction
By Chris D. Thomas

300 pp. PublicAffairs. $28.

Available at