Tag Archives: science

What’s in the box? A Cycladic surprise!

Γεια folks!

Once upon a time, there was an ancient civilization that lived on and around the Mediterranean island that is today called Santorini, part of Greece. But then that civilization just disappeared, and no one really knows for sure just where to. And that was before a catastrophic volcanic eruption wiped out all that remained of the civilization. I’ve already written on these here blog pages about this fascinating place (a few times a couple years back, and a bit earlier). Ancient legends, astonishing archeological discoveries, and unbelievable hypotheses and assumptions – that’s what this place is about.

More than 3600 years ago the Minoans lived here in a city made up of houses of three or four stories, with fully working plumbing systems. But ‘Minoans’ is the name given to them thousands of years after their disappearance; who they really were, what they called themselves and their island, what language they spoke and wrote, and so on – all that is still a mystery.

All that’s left of the ‘Minoan’ civilization is the ruins of their ancient city: houses and streets, most of which are still all under a thick layers of volcanic ash.

Well I think the above-mentioned is more than enough reason to carry out archeological digs here. And not just dig, but also restore and preserve all that’s already been excavated. And after nearly a year-and-a-half (not including the winter break) of work, something reeeaaal interesting’s turned up! Namely: earthenware boxes containing… hmmm – probably something very interesting… Here are these boxes:

So, what was inside them?

‘Nothing?’ Nope.

Turns out… – another earthenware box! But inside that… – no, I’ll save that for a bit later in this post…

Read on…

The world’s first ever bytes.

Hi folks!

Today’s post is from Munich; specifically – from one of its fine museums, and then from a conference I was speaking at…

All righty. The museum: the Deutsches Museum, the world’s largest science and technology museum!

In a word, this place: ‘WHOAH!’

How can I best describe it? Ok, how about this:

Imagine you’re in a market – a massive one. There are rows of stalls selling fruit and vegetables, eggs, nuts, knick-knacks… whatever. Well, here – it’s just like that, only the stalls feature cars, planes, computers and all sorts of other tech, from the ancient to the modern-day – lots of it too: 28,000 exhibits! Oh my grandiose!

Read on…

Stars, Strings, Exoplanets, Apollos, and Now Politics – Starmus 2017.

Hi folks!

Time to tell you all about this year’s Starmus. Last year the conference took place in sunny Tenerife. This year – just the opposite: it was in rainy Trondheim in Norway. Not that the rain made the experience any worse. Mere weather cannot dull something so otherworldly as Starmus…

Here’s the audience slowly filling up the venue just before kick-off:

This year 2,500 folks attended (at least, that’s how many tickets were sold), plus there’d have been untold numbers watching the proceedings via the Internet. And judging by the fact that the large hall was packed, I reckon all those who purchased tickets were in fact there.

Read on: Norwegian armed chess forces…

Christmas Sales – a Climatic-Origin Version.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, somewhere in London – quite possibly in the British Museum – I recall beholding a painting called something like ‘The Market on the Thames’. ‘Whoah!’ I thought to myself, naturally. The River Thames completely freezing over to the extent that not only could you walk around on its surface, but also have a large winter marketplace on it too?! Crikey, as they say in London.

I’m not sure this was the painting I saw; it could have been this, or even this one.

Straight away this got me thinking – about man-made global warming in particular…

So, the Thames hasn’t frozen over for more than 200 years. This means that the full force of the Industrial Revolution didn’t make the climate any warmer at all – since the Industrial Revolution’s full force was felt around the same time as when the Thames would freeze over (it was so cold around then (16th to 19th centuries) they’ve even called the period the Little Ice Age).

Ok, that could be countered with: ‘it hasn’t frozen over for 200 years precisely because of the man-made global warming caused by the Industrial Revolution!’ Hmmm. Ok folks, over to you. Your thoughts? :).

Read on: Sounds familiar…

Who Discovered America?

Hi folks!

After my Antarctic series on this here blog of mine, it looks like another series may be on the horizon – a historical one. Yesterday we had an alternative history of so-called crown dependencies; today – more history; not of a (British) crown dependency but a former (British) crown colony, no less…

So, who… you know, got there first from overseas? I was just curious after reading various scholarly versions and falsifications. So I read up more on the subject, and I discovered the following:

Episode 1: Homo Sapiens.

So who first discovered America? You know, like a zillion years ago? Well there’s no precise answer to that question one as it was… a zillion years ago, before things like writing and the keeping of records, and a zillion other useful things were invented. But, apparently, it was someone who was from what is now Siberia, who, at some point during the spring of the ice age, crossed the (possibly, at least in parts, dry) valley between the two glacial mountains on either side of what is today the (very wet) Bering Strait.

Who knows today what the Bering Strait looked like back then? Was it completely dry? Was it a swampy marsh? Or was it much like it is today – a sea? Did that first Siberian walk it? Canoe it? Swim it? We’ll probably never know, unless…).

Read on: What made them decide to go east?…

An Alternative History of Crown Dependencies.

My recent short trips to the Channel Islands (in particular, Jersey) had left me with many unanswered questions and much bewilderment. And of course what amazed me most was the official status of these mini-territories, and the fact that some have their own currency and even Internet domains.

Mercifully, my friend and colleague, V.G, (inter alia, our resident history buff) filled in the blanks in my knowledge regarding these so-called crown dependences in a blogpost he recently put on our intranet on the Second World War – in particular, on the Nazi occupation of crown dependencies. I was going to give you my version of what he wrote there, but, on second thoughts, I decided it’d be better straight from the horse’s historian’s mouth, as they say. So here’s his post – verbatim. All righty. Here we go…

 In August 1940, a month after the beginning of the Battle of Britain, the German occupation regime of the Channel Islands – up to that moment crown dependencies of Great Britain – was finally established. These islands became – and remained, until May 16, 1945 – the only territories of the British Commonwealth occupied by the Wehrmacht.

A crown dependency is a territory dependent on the mother country (the United Kingdom) – not a colony; this had been the custom since the times of the Dukes of Normandy, and became law in 1563. In 1565, Elisabeth I introduced the institute of governors of the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and others. The island of Sark falls under the jurisdiction of Guernsey and is ruled by a constitutional monarch with the title Seigneur of Sark or Dame of Sark. 

Read on: Back to the island of Sark…

2017: Prime Numbers, Factorials, Primorials, Derangements: It’s Complicated.

As many will already know, the number 2017 is a prime number; that is, it can be divided without a remainder only by itself and 1. Must say, the theory of prime numbers is a wholly interesting one and an extremely useful one too, as any cryptographer will tell you :).

But today I’ll be writing about something different. See, based on the fact that 2017 is prime – or ‘simple’ – many, myself included, are anticipating a simple, straightforward and calm year 2017, especially since 2016 was a bit of a rotter. Let me show you why.

Like I said, prime numbers are those that can only be divided by themselves and 1 without leaving a remainder. Non-prime numbers are called composite numbers, incidentally.

Turns out that 2016 is not only a composite number but a very composite number! It has a whole eight divisors. Grab a calculator your smartphone and test it for yourself:
2016 = 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 3 * 3 * 7

Whoah! Even the quantity of divisors is anything but simple, since 8 = 2 * 2 * 2.

So what about other years? Was 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, a ‘prime’ year, for example? No, it wasn’t. 1917 = 3 * 3 * 3 * 71. Just four divisors, but they’re kinda poignant – and prophetic of nothing much good.

So what about other very prime/simple years, and other very non-prime/non-simple ones? Ok, let’s narrow this down a bit to 1980 through present day…

Prime/simple years:

And in the near future there are a few more prime/simples:

(eek, that’s a lot of non-simple years until then)

The most non-prime/non-simple years were:
1984 = 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 31 (seven divisors)
2000 = 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 5 * 5 * 5   (also seven)

There were six divisors in 1980, and there’ll be six in 2025. All other years can be called semi-prime/semi-simple.

But I digress…

Now, in the popular British mathematical journal The Guardian :), readers were recently teased with a… brain teaser. In the blanks between the sequence of figures 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 you need to add arithmetic symbols (+, -, x, ÷, (),) – as many as you like – so as to get the number (year) 2017.

For example, if you add arithmetic signs as follows you get 817:
10 * 9 * (8 + 7 – 6) * (5 – 4) + 3 * 2 + 1 = 817

But how do you add arithmetic to get 2017?
10?9?8?7?6?5?4?3?2?1 = 2017

Come on, have a go!

As for me, in nine minutes I got the equation to equal 2017 by kinda wonky arithmetic (I made the ‘3’ and ‘2’ = ’32’!); then, in around 15 or 20 minutes I got the answer in a proper way without bending the rules. I say ‘a’ way: there are different ways of getting to 2017!

So, tried it yet?

Ok, let’s make it harder: Now take away the 10:
9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1 = 2017

Read on: How to make 2017 out of 1?…

Days 3-5: Stars + Music = Starmus.

The Starmus-ship Enterprise journeyed further – for a third, fourth and fifth day! Yes, five full days for one single conference – and me present for (almost) every presentation (of the first three days): a first for me.

I’ve grouped the last three days into one post as five posts on one conference would be a little OTT… and anyway, the last three days were slightly less jaw-droppingly intergalactic than the first two. They were still really something however, including several Starmus ‘star’ moments, including this one:

Stephen Hawking.

This clever chap hardly needs an introduction. He started out by telling us a Brief History of Time His Life. Of course, you can read all about that on Wikipedia, but it’s a lot better from the horse’s mouth. Actually, not from the horses’ mouth, and not from his own, but from software that scans his eyes and selects the required words to make sentences. This, plus the synthesized words over the sound system really made an impression. What a guy! An amazing character. Huge respect.


Read on: Check out these views!…

Starmus – Day 2: Saturn’s Remarkable Rings and Rats’ Remarkable Memory.

Starmus is a quantumly stellar conference! I can’t remember a conference where I went to every presentation, from beginning to end, but I did here (well, almost). Thoroughly interesting, lively, engaging, stimulating. In short: out of this world – just like most topics spoken about.

All righty. Here’s my quick synopsis of all the speeches of day two:

Brian Schmidt.

The American-Australian astrophysicist. Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011. Thought-provoking presentation about dark matter, of which, he reckons, a large proportion of the Universe is made up, but which we can see with neither the naked, trained, nor micro-/telescope-assisted eye. Also told us about dark energy (sounds like a sub-genre of techno:), which, though also completely unknown and unseen, is “hypothesized to permeate all of space”! (- Wiki).

Galaxies rotate, the Universe expands: it’s as if there’s dark (unknown) matter and energy at play. Even though we can’t see it, it’s thought it makes up… 95% of the contents of the Universe! In other words, all that we can see around us only makes up 5% of what’s really there – 5% of the matter and energy of the Universe. EH?!?!!

Read on: Jokers, scientists and astronauts…