Tangled Bank #92

Welcome welcome one and all, to the eighty-twelfth edition of the ancient and worthy Tangled Bank Blog Carnival. And let the games begin…

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So I hung up the plastic bats and spiders, carved the pumpkins, mixed the punch, cut the sandwiches into tiny triangles and sent out a hundred gory invitations. And who shows up at the party but a bunch of scientists.

Oh just great – now it’s bad dancing, taxonomy jokes and quantum physics discussions until the sun comes up. Ah well, at least nobody will be talking about their mortgages.

Well, I may as well see who showed up. Aha, here’s the first one – over by the pretzel bowl, dressed up as a Psilocybe azurescens, it’s none other than the mad hatter himself. Enchanting as always; just be careful where you drop those spores, sir.

mad_scientist_caricature.pngAnd who is that octopus, with its long rubbery tentacles currently wrapped around Marie Curie and Marie-Anne Lavoisier? Well that could only be Kevin Z of The Other 95%. Glad you could make it. And 8 hands are indeed better than none, especially when it comes to groping historical ladies.

Hello there, you tall dark stranger with your scythe, hood and anti-aging cream. Why, bless my soul, it’s no other than Chris Patil of Ouroboros. May your bony and ageless fingers eventually find purchase on those cheese doodles.

Excuse me here, coming through, keep that proboscis to yourself, thank you very much. And leave the cat alone, please, he lives here too.

Ah, here is the man I wanted to see, all done up in his Victorian finery, with a nice beard and hat to match. Mr. Darwin I presume – or should I say Mr. Fernandez of Sharp Brains, chatting to another gentleman of letters on the topic of aging and the mind. Fascinating, I’m sure.

mad03.jpgWell that guy just coming out of the bathroom isn’t exactly hard to spot – that double helix of brightly glowing neon tubes could probably be seen from the moon. Yes indeed, Aaron Golas of Synapostasy always makes an effort – just don’t get him talking about his new research position, because you’ll never shut him up.

Quick, over here, it’s Ed Yong, and he’s come as Gondwana. Watch now, he’s just about to undergo a massive volcanic eruption – wait for it, wait for it – and yes, there he goes, right over Carl Sagan’s paper plate. Wonderful – billions and billions of pasta pieces, all across my nice clean kitchen floor.

So who the hell came as the barrel of toxic chemicals? Daring outfit, I must say, but I’m glad I’m not the one scraping all the green crap out of my hair. Still, a good effort from Tim at Walking The Berkshires, always willing to make a mess in other people’s houses.

Aha! You there, in the cupboard, cut that out! It’s not even historically accurate – Hypatia of Alexandria did NOT get it on with Bertrand Russell. Well what do I expect when I invite Dr. Tara Smith and Mike Bergin to the same party? Maybe I should not have put Diane Kelly in charge of the punch bowl – goodness knows what she slipped in there.

Alright, who showed up as Washoe the chimp? That’s just not very tasteful – poor recently deceased monkey. So who is under there? Ah, none other than Archaeozoo, of course. No, I don’t want a banana, but thanks for caring.

halloween_demons_87.jpgSunil from Balancing Life! Turn the music down! Yes, I know you currently have no opposable thumbs, but just use your trunk! And what are you shouting about? What? He did what? Who did what? And he put it where?!?

Ah whatever…let’s just keep on moving. Woah…and what are you supposed to be? Aha, its Jeremy Cherfas dressed as the Arrow Of Time. Ha ha – pointy arrow hat, very good. Just don’t walk too close to the balloons, if you please.

Sigmund Freud – now what’s a party without Siggy and his trusty cure-all, the old Columbian marching powder? And under that beard is none other than Mr. Joe Dunckley, if I’m not mistaken. I have my eye on you, sir!

And what am I? Well its about time somebody asked. But isn’t that bloody obvious? Come on now, look carefully – pasta, meatballs…yes! The Flying Spaghetti Monster, in all my noodly glory! Let’s just hope no other deities showed up, or there will trouble and grief.

Hey, you there! That couch is not for surfing! And the TV is not for – whatever it is you are doing to the TV! And the cat – where’s the cat..? In whose pants? And – you there, yes, you! – just because you are dressed as a Neanderthal does not give you the right to…to…

Oh alright, that’s it! Attention please! Turn the damned lights on! Music off! Everybody, listen up – I will only say this once, and excuse me if I slur:

Thank you all for coming. You’ve been bloody wonderful. Sorry if I missed anybody or caused injury or insult. Now grab your jackets and get the hell out!

What a bloody mess. I think next year I’ll be inviting good wholesome, clean-living creationists. I just hope they don’t all dress up as Jesus.

See you all next time at Jim Lemire’s house for Tangled Bank number 93. And bring your own bottle.

/ paddy

Blades, Air and Automobiles

Electricity is a huge waste of everything. When it is produced, you are very lucky to convert 40% of the available fuel energy into electricity. And transmitting the stuff in power lines incurs losses of somewhere between 5 and 10%.

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And then, at the other end, we have inefficient appliances hell-bent on wasting this attenuated stream of energy, such as fridges that work hard 24-7 to cool down nothing more than air, and TVs and computers which burn more energy turned “off” than when they are actually being used.

Electricity is, in short, a ridiculously dumb way for a civilisation to move its energy around. And now we are using it to move our cars. Yes, I know that electric cars are somewhat better than gasoline ones, but only in the sense that the pollution created to make the car go is moved to somewhere else, namely from the car’s engine to a remote power station.

You could argue that electricity can be produced from renewable sources, but we all know that the vast majority isn’t and isn’t likely to be.

So here’s my solution. Usually we convert mechanical energy (such as from a wind turbine) into electrical and then back into mechanical to make something move. Well let’s just skip the middle step, and run our next-generation cars on something that isn’t electricity.

air-car.jpgThis baby is the MDI air car, also known as the MiniCAT. Its power source is a tank of compressed air, pressurised to 300 atmospheres. When the air is slowly released it turns the engine and makes the car go. And that’s it – clockwork, but with air acting as the spring.

This car is also much lighter than a regular car because the engine doesn’t get hot and metals with lower melting points, such as aluminium, can be used in its construction.

This is all fine, but now here comes the smart part. By using the mechanical energy of a wind turbine or water wheel to compress our air directly, we can drive our car from mechanical energy only. And by skipping the conversion to electricity we make big energy savings and remove the need for generators, transmission and storage.

This car can travel 150km or more on a single full tank of air, and the tanks, incidentally, are the same ones used by buses to store liquid natural gas, so they are safe and tested. If you can’t see the obvious advantages of a car powered by air, then I suggest you leave the room right now.

As far as I can see, nobody else has proposed this combination of compressed air cars and mechanical energy. If you know of somebody who has then please let me know.

And if anybody has a wad of cash burning a hole in their pocket and would like to fund me to investigate this system properly, then my ears (and my pockets) are wide open and ready for business.

You know, I think we’ll call it the paddy-wagon…

/ paddy

Greenwash

This topic never fails to annoy me. But then you all knew that already, didn’t you?

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Every day now I see advertising trying to convince me to buy what is known in Swedenland as a “miljöbil” – an environmentally friendly car. These cars are almost always ethanol hybrids – that is, cars capable of running any mix of gasoline and ethanol. They are invariably advertised with green colours and happy babies and flowers that spring into life as the smelly hunk of metal and plastic zooms by, carrying its single occupant.

This is bollox, people. Ethanol is a hydrocarbon. It may come from “natural” sources but so does oil and coal. Ethanol has as much CO2 emission as gasoline, and a few extra dangerous compounds given off when the engine starts up. And a lot of evidence today points to ethanol manufacture, storage and transport leading to essentially as much net CO2 emissions as gasoline. And lets not forget the fact that ethanol also requires farming land for its manufacture – a good deal of it – while oil comes mainly from under the sea.

Making a car run on ethanol isn’t such a huge breakthrough as the car companies tell us. Cars have always been able to run on ethanol. Of course, running them just on pure ethanol will damage the engine after a while, but almost every car can run 10 or 15% ethanol added to gasoline with few ill effects. Tweaking the engine is not a “breakthrough” in any way that makes sense.

Today in Stockholm you receive a bunch of perks for switching to a miljöbil. These include a purchase grant and exemption from the city congestion charges, despite the fact that your ethanol car takes up as much space, makes as much noise and spews out as much crap as any other car. The only difference is that you get to feel smug about it. And in fact many perfectly ordinary gasoline cars are listed as “miljöbil” because they are fuel-efficient or have lower emissions than normal.

And then of course you could buy one of these cars and NEVER put any ethanol in it. And I’m sure that many people do just this. Ethanol is hard to find anyway, and if all the perks are yours regardless, why even bother to put the right fuel in? Who’s going to know?

green_car.jpgYou could just as well call a Nuclear submarine “environmentally friendly” by including a hundred sets of oars and suggesting that the crew could, if they wanted to, row the thing home. Or call an SUV “environmentally friendly” by welding on a few hooks where you could, if you wanted, attach horse tackle and have the beasts pull you along. The reasoning is exactly the same – just by adding the possibility of a thing is no guarantee that the thing will be used.

And then we need to consider that half of the CO2 emissions from most cars have already been released before you even set foot inside the thing. Building the car and making the materials used in its manufacture see to that. The actual choice of fuel makes very little difference.

Ethanol cars are complete and utter greenwash. It is simply the car companies trying to tweak your conscience in order to sell you more crap. Electric hybrids may be better, but they still have to be manufactured. The only true way to make your car environmentally friendly is to make an electrical or solar-powered car, from car parts that you already have, or just not buy the thing in the first place. How about that for a car ad:

“Save 100% of your emissions, all of your fuel costs, and never pay a parking fee or congestion charge ever again! As well as this you pocket 15 thousand Euro, tax free!”

I’ll have one of those, please!

/ paddy

Four Stone Hearth Volume 24

Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but you have indeed come to the 24th Four Stone Hearth anthropology blog carnival. Just lean your club against the wall, grab a hunk of raw flesh and park your hairy arse on the damp ground. And try not to smack anybody.

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I first saw “Quest For Fire” as a rather confused 10-year old. I watched it with a group of older male relatives and was curious as to why we were watching a movie where ape-people were running about grunting and waving clubs at each other. Then we came to the part where one of the males gives it to the female doggy-style. And then I realised why my relatives would sit down to a 2-hour film with no speech – because Jimmy down at the pirate video store had mentioned there was some shagging in it.

And that was my first brush with anthropology, with the idea that people a long time ago may not really have seen the world as I saw it, even though their brains were probably similar. My second brush with anthropology was…well, it is this blog carnival, actually. And so, 25 years later, we can see if I have managed to pick up anything on my travels, and if I can present it in a way that does not make me appear like a total Australopithecus.

Look, a hominid reference already – this is going to go just fine!

First up, we head over to Bonobo Handshake and watch as a group of intrepid researchers are dispatched to the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to make life more interesting for a group of bonobos. Bonobos, for those of you who don’t know, are popular with feminists as they live in a female-dominated societies and apparently solve their disputes by shagging. And who says we can’t learn anything from our hairier cousins?

Next, from John Hawks Weblog, we have an article discussing that, after 10,000 years in first position, farming has just slipped to number 2 in the world’s leading industry list. Apparently more people are now working in “services” than are kept busy converting sunlight to useful consumables such as food.

Anthropology.net brings us 2 articles on the Dmanisi fossil specimens: this one and this other one. Lots of fine images of bones and teeth, if that is your thing. And if you have read this far, then it probably is.

CFeagans over at Hot Cup of Joe walks us through the tangled web of the Italian Antiques Trial. It seems that trafficking in stolen antiques is a crime these days. Tell that to the museums of the world who got their most of their collections together in this ancient and time-honoured fashion.

Science Daily looks at whether the first domesticated pigs in Europe were brought over by Middle Eastern farmers, or if they descended instead from the native wild boar. This is decided by looking at DNA, digging stuff up and thinking quite intensely. Oh just read it.

Anthropology.net throws a little linguistic anthropology at us. In this article they discuss if pronouns are a linguistic tool designed to stop our brains from accessing the hard-drive too often. A sort of cerebral flash-memory, if you will.

Glen over at Paleoglot gives us a few thoughts on sexuality and history and how it is impossible to separate one from the other, no matter how many flag-waving moralists are camped on your front lawn.

Tim Jones over at Remote Central brings us an exciting account of an excavation near Sydney, which may be the site of an incredibly old aboriginal settlement. And it makes you wonder if the present culture in the region will last quite as long as the previous one…

Primate Diaries brings looks at the current position of primates in our research laboratories (quite often prone and restrained with metal bits sticking into their brains) and asks how necessary this all is. Your busy Primate Diary host also takes a look at Homo floresiensis, and looks at the reasons for the female menopause. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s got very little to do with playing bingo.

My own entry to this blog carnival is not at first glance (or second) recognisable as anthropology. But I don’t care, because it’s my game and if I can’t play then I’m going home.

We head over to Archaeozoology for a couple of articles on the general topic of ‘The Archaeozoology of Luxury and the Exotic.’ Article one deals with The Archaeozoology of Luxury, and article 2, Narwhals or Unicorns?, looks at the general confusion concerning ancient animal body parts and where they sat on the animal in question.

Finally, a little something from Dr. Martin Rundqvist, who serenades us with tales of scanning the ground, digging it up and finding cool stuff.

Thank you for joining me on this random stagger through a diverse range of subjects that I barely understand. The next Four Stone Hearth will be over at Remote Central on October 10. So take your club and get the hell out. You needn’t shut the door as the cave doesn’t have one. And I’m really, really sorry about the pubic lice.

/ paddy

The A-Team and the B-Team

I have always suspected that people who are happy to go to bed early and get up at the crack of dawn are weirdos. And now the latest research backs me up, and I couldn’t be smugger.

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There are, when it comes to sleeping patterns, three types of humans: A-people, B-people and then a whole bunch of losers that we will refer to as “normal” people, and are not that interesting really. Well sorry, but you’re just not.

The A-people like nothing better than putting on their jim-jams, sipping a warm beverage and climbing into bed at 9:15 or so. They sleep log-like until their shrill little alarm clocks ring at 6:30 and up they hop, fresh as a fucking daisy and eat their porridge with a wink and a nod and a big shit-eating grin.

A-people make me sick.

Then there are the B-people. Like me. B-people are physically incapable of going to sleep early. 12 is manageable, but pushing it. If a B-person is forced to bed at 10 (usually by a well-meaning A-person), they will turn and squirm and stare into the darkness for an hour or two. And if, my some miracle, they do manage to go to sleep at all then they will only wake up at midnight and be stone cold alert until the birdies cheep and grey dawn glows cruelly at the window several hours later.

This part is hard to explain to A people – it’s not that we choose to stay up late, we are actually physically incapable of sleeping early. We-can’t-do-it and no amount of sheep-counting, oral pleasuring, herbal tea or new-age dirge will change that. I am at my most alert in the evening, and sleep is the last thing my body wants.

I am a B-person. If left to myself, I will adopt a cycle of going to bed at 1 or 2 in the morning and waking up at 9. It doesn’t take a genius to notice that this does not fit in with any aspect of modern life: not with work, nor babies, nor schools, nor anything else. If a B-person is to function in the modern world, they are forced to almost always be tired.

The research says that B-people comprise 15-25% of the population, A-people 10-15% and normals the rest. But, for some reason, the world is designed and run for the A-people. In Sweden, it is particularly bad, with schools starting before 8:30 in the morning, even for 6-year-olds. And when the long, cold dark winter moves in, it is close to torture as we are forced to get up and stumble out the door when it is totally dark outside.

I suspect the world is designed this way because the fucking A-people scheduled all the meetings for 7:30 and were therefore the only ones awake and paying attention. The B’s, meanwhile, just sat there at the meeting table, unshaven and sipping coffee, and did not raise their hands at the right moment due to being largely unconscious.

And then I start to wonder – why should we all have the same cycles? Why in the world must everybody go to work at the same time, requiring more roads and trains to be built for a few hours of frantic rush-hour every day? Why must every idiot stand in line in my local deli at lunch time? Why do schools all open at the crack of dawn?

Why are the fucking A-people still running the show?!?

Something needs to be done, and luckily some brave B-people are doing something (although mostly in the evening). We have the noble Danish society, B-samfundet, also available in Sweden, who are fighting for the rights of the terminally tired. Also we have the same group again in an English-language version.

May these tireless fighters break the iron grip of the smug getting-uppers and allow us all, for the first time ever, to get a good night’s sleep. And maybe, while they’re at it, they can get something decent on the telly at 3 in the morning that isn’t Magnum PI.

Some newspaper articles on this topic (in Swedish) can be found here and here.

/ paddy (B to the bone)

Swedish Temporal Cycles

The Swedes like it when things happen on a regular and predictable basis. You don’t, for example, just pop into somebody for a cup of tea and a chat unannounced, and if you don’t inform people about a party at least 3 weeks ahead, then you can just forget about it and eat all the cheese doodles yourself.

The reason for this love of regular cycles is the very specific form of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). It is the SCN that largely controls circadian rhytmn, and the Swedish SCN has a particular form, which we will come back to shortly.

But first a look at some cycles. One example is the fact that everybody in Sweden gets paid at the same time of the month, around the 25th. This causes a run on the bars, huge lines at Systembolaget and a sense of collective foreboding when everybody’s money runs out on the 16th or so of every month.

There is also the industrial holiday, by which I mean that everybody takes their holidays in July. The Stockholm underground goes into “summertime” mode, which mean the trains come far less often and have more drunks on them. It’s worse that Madrid, and we don’t even get a siesta.

There is also the thing about seasonal foods, things that only exist at a certain and precise time of the year. Examples of this are the Semla, the Must, the Saffranbulle and the crayfish. Although I actually approve of this one, and believe that we would all be happier if our choice in food was reduced to whatever was in season. “Choice” is bad, and simply another name for runaway consumption.

And so how do we explain this love of cycles? Well let us get back to the Swedish brain. A recent study from the Karolinska Institute studied the physical form of over 500 SCNs and determined that the normal form of the cell cluster in Sweden was as follows:

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And that, if you ask me, explains that.

/ paddy