We are Stardust

NASA presented some preliminary findings from their Twins Study earlier this year.  A complete paper from this study is to be released later this year.  For those who are not familiar with this study, this is the first and only study done on twin astronauts comparing the one who spent 340 days in space (Scott Kelly) with his brother (Mark Kelly) who spent the same time on earth, to try to understand genetic changes due to long term space travel.  The twins had identical genes when the experiment started.  They found that the person who had lived in space went through some genetic mutations during his time in space, and that some changes in gene expression (which apparently is not the same as genetic changes) seem to be long lasting.

Our living environment deeply impacts what we are as a species inhabiting the Universe.   We are shaped by where we exist in the universe, and there is some kind of a process that causes us to develop in a certain manner in different environments.  Scott Kelly spent less than a year in Space before the changes in his body manifested themselves.  Consider the near certainty that the magnitude of the differences caused in species because of where we exist in the universe likely outweighs our differences due to our existences in different places and in different circumstances on this earth itself.  Why then are we bent on focusing on and exploiting our own relatively minor differences?  And do we really think we are the superior species?

The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

(Picture from Quanta Magazine. Credit – Vaishakh Manohar.)

via The Simple Algorithm That Ants Use to Build Bridges | Quanta Magazine

I first learned about how ants work in a cooperative manner in a book that my daughter had bought me for Christmas. The book was all about trails.  (She had figured out the perfect book for my interests!)   There is a chapter in this book about how trails historically came into being, and how these have, over time, led to our modern day system of roads, railroad tracks, and other connections for human travel.

Trails have existed for ages. The concept is not the creation of humans.  Animals of different kinds, using different skills, and for different purposes, have created trails.   There was, and still is, no real planning involved (the way humans would define it) in the creation of animal trails. It is all tied to their inbuilt instinct to survive and exist.

Ants have been creating trails for a long time.  The notable thing about the behavior of ants is that in spite of the fact that they do not have any significant level of individual intelligence, they show a great deal of collective or cooperative intelligence that lets them be effective in complex tasks.  (They do not even depend on the presence of an occasional “smart” ant that can serve as a leader.)  The book describes how their processes work for creating very efficient trails.  (There is even a kind of ant that is blind that is still very effective at this.)  Humans are now trying to understand if any of these processes are useful for our own existence.

Anyway, the article I have linked to is fascinating.  Make sure to watch the videos!

The Downgrading of Nature in a Dictionary

I was stunned when I first read about this. A note about what had happened was in a book that I have just finished about America’s National Parks.  I found confirmation of the facts on the Snopes website.

via Dictionary Drama

I felt a little better after getting a better context for the bigger picture.  Nevertheless,  I feel a little sad about this, and I would also argue that what is going on may not necessarily be a good thing. There are other more important people who also seem to feel the same way.

How the humble S-bend made modern toilets possible – BBC News

via How the humble S-bend made modern toilets possible – BBC News

“”Gentility of speech is at an end,” thundered an editorial in London’s City Press, in 1858. “It stinks!””

“More than 170 years later, about two-thirds of the world’s people have access to what’s called “improved sanitation”, according to the World Health Organization, up from about a quarter in 1980.”

“Across various African countries, for example, it reckons inadequate sanitation lops one or two percentage points off gross domestic product (GDP), in India and Bangladesh over 6%, and in Cambodia 7%”

Is Health Care a Right? | The New Yorker

This is a fairly long article, but it is a worthwhile read, especially for those of us who live in the US.   It could give you a window into viewpoints about the healthcare debate outside the bubble of our own existences and thinking.

via Is Health Care a Right? | The New Yorker

What the Disasters Say About Us

The Equifax disaster was somewhat inevitable considering the current state of software systems and network security around the world.  I have noted in the past that the moment one became a part of the Internet, you have basically given up your privacy.  You may ask then, what more is left to be said about what happened at Equifax, when the extremely private information of over 143 million people, more than forty percent of the population of the United States, was compromised by a single entity, all in one shot.

What astounds me is the response of the people, and of the folks who run our country, to what is going on.  Indeed, it is the lack of response that is amazing.  While there are a minority of people who seem to appreciate the seriousness of the matter, beyond the context how this one-time incident effects people, most others go about their lives simply hoping that the current problem does not affect them, when indeed this incident is only the tip of the iceberg and a symptom of greater disasters that can happen with the way our systems are structured and the way we live our lives.  In this particular case, also consider the additional cluelessness of the company involved.   They appear to have had no sense of the seriousness of the situation and value of the information that they were handling, and once disaster struck, they had no idea how to to handle the situation.  Indeed, as of today, they still have not demonstrated that they know what they are doing.

Perhaps I should not be surprised with what is happening.  The same kind of attitude seems to hold in the case of physical disasters.  Weather events like hurricanes seem to be getting more powerful over the years, yet we choose to ignore the science behind the phenomenon and refuse to acknowledge why this may be happening.  Indeed, we will even reduce the resources available to further understand and address the problem and very few will even care or protest.   It does not matter if the origins of our problems are physical or virtual, the same kind of attitudes and philosophies hold.

We think we are an advanced society because of our access to all kinds of technologies.  But that does not mean that we really know what we are doing.