Apocalypse 1893: The Scientific End of the World

Camille Flammarion’s Omega: The Last Days of the World (1893)

FlammarionAvenueWhether fiction written early in the 19th century qualifies as genuine science fiction is debatable, but when it comes to the futuristic fiction of the end of the century, there can be no doubt. The nascent genre was quickly becoming popular, and in the two decades before World War I, science fiction became truly engaged with science — particularly the radical scientific discoveries that transformed communication, war, public health, and especially, our place in the cosmos.

Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne were the trailblazers, writing works inspired by contemporary developments in science, which both of them followed closely. Then came the French astronomer and popular science author, Camille Flammarion, the Carl Sagan of his day. His 1893 End of the World novel Omega: The Last Days of the World is a grand future history, with a mystical but secular cosmology deeply rooted in the science of the day. It’s an almost modern work of science fiction, a bridge between de Grainville’s early Gothic apocalypse and the radically new 20th century apocalyptic science fiction of H.G. Wells. Continue reading

Science Caturday: Bring Your Own Bacteria

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Big cool microbiologist Jack Gilbert (and a bunch of his smartest colleagues) just published a paper in Science which reveals that, like Pigpen, every human lives in a unique cloud of germs that we carry with us wherever we go.

This microbial profile, or “germ fingerprint”, is transferred to your living space remarkably quickly.  “No matter what you do to clean a hotel room,” Gilbert said, “your microbial signal has wiped out basically every trace of the previous resident within hours.”

The study, part of the Home Microbiome Project, sampled seven families, including 18 people, three dogs and a cat. Three of the families moved during the study, so the researchers tested two houses plus hotel rooms for each of them. The volunteers swabbed their hands, noses and feet, as well as floors, counters and other surfaces in their homes.

As nifty as this research is, we strongly disagree with one of Gilbert’s recommendations: he encourages people to get a dog. He told the Washington Post: “We saw dogs acting as a super-charged conduit,” he said, “transferring bacteria between one human and another, and bringing in outdoor bacteria. They just run around distributing microbes all willy-nilly.” Well, of course they do, as they slobber and shed. Science Caturday says:

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 You deserve better. Get a cat.

My Kids Need a Velociraptor

UPDATE 2014-08-28 11:34 – Project is now 61% funded with £4643 pledged from 102 backers

Rebecca Groom, creator of Paleoplushies is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of scientifically accurate, poseable velociraptor stuffed animals (aka, plushies in the UK). You have until 28 September to pledge. As of this writing, 79 backers have pledged £3103 of the needed £7600. Misrepresentation of these creatures in toys and movies interferes with the communication of interesting discoveries in paleontology. It has also incorrectly convinced my children that Daddy could not beat a ‘raptor in a fight. Groom’s velociraptor, complete with feathers, opens up discussions.

Rebecca Groom’s velociraptor plushie prototype

If, like me, your kids* desperately need such a toy, the “perks” that include a toy start at £30 plus £4 shipping to the US (about $56).

*Or your kids are a socially acceptable excuse for you desperately needing one.

HT: John Conway

Letter from Senator Lyndsey Graham on Net Neutrality

If Senator Tim Scott’s form letter on Net Neutrality didn’t say much, Senator Lyndsey Graham’s says even less. Unlike Senator Scott’s, only the first paragraph is subject specific. The final three are his form letter boilerplate. Senator Graham isn’t staking out a position. He is simply defending Congress’ power relative to the FCC, something he is usually loathe to do when it comes to the executive branch. Congress can act to declare internet service providers as common carriers; but will they?

I’d like to add a brief moment to address Senator Graham’s office on the matter of etiquette. Senator Graham and I are not on a first name basisContinue reading

Letter from Senator Tim Scott on Net Neutrality

As is my habit, I publish the form letters I receive from my elected representatives. On that front, Net Neutrality is the gift that keeps on giving – if you enjoy letters that don’t say anything – such as this missive from Senator Tim Scott. My general interpretation of this is that while Senator Scott is generally in favor of Net Neutrality, he is not going to spend any political capital flexing his muscles on behalf of the FCC’s reach or to push Congress to define internet service providers as common carriers. Thanks to rules about local internet service providers, the diversity of competition, which is key to Senator Scott’s hope for the future, has been decreasing, especially for those of us living in small towns in South Carolina. Continue reading