M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

Light from behind a black hole

July 31, 2021
MThomas

…while light cannot escape a black hole, its extreme gravity warps space around it, which allows light to “echo,” bending around the back of the object. Thanks to this strange phenomenon, astronomers have, for the first time, observed the light from behind a black hole.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/einstein-right-researchers-see-light-echo-black-hole-rcna1553

Einstein has been proven right. Again.

No, Leonardo has no “descendants”

July 18, 2021
MThomas

The news spread quickly last week.

Fourteen people alive today in Italy can claim that they are descendants of Leonardo da Vinci, according to a study of the Renaissance genius’ family tree.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/fourteen-living-descendants-leonardo-da-vinci-are-identified-rcna1402

I won’t bother posting the other two to three dozen “news” about it, since they all pretty much copy each other without doing much (or any) actual journalistic research.

Nor do they use common sense.

In the paragraph following the one quoted above, this sentence appears:

Researchers traced da Vinci’s genealogy over nearly 700 years and 21 generations, from 1331 to the present day, beginning with da Vinci’s great-great-great grandfather Michele.

OK. So this is family genealogy, not just Leonardo, right?

That would explain why so many people were found. But they’re his relatives, not descendants.

Da Vinci, best known for painting “The Last Supper” and “The Mona Lisa,” had no children, but his blood relatives include 22 half siblings.

If he had no children (which is true), then he has no descendants.

Simple.

Yet another case of media happily exaggerating studies they don’t understand but are eager to exploit.

Also, Leonardo always signed his name “Leonardo di Ser Piero” or “di Piero.” Vinci is a small town near where he was born. (People at that time period in Europe didn’t have surnames in the modern sense.) So saying the research is about the “da Vinci family” makes little sense. Nor does the idea that “genius” runs in families. The famous Edison dictum applies here.

I’m also fairly certain Leonardo had 12, and not “22,” half-siblings. Ser Piero was a bit indiscrete but not that indiscrete. He was a notary, not a king.

mRNA and nanotech? Stay skeptical and use the Baloney Detection Kit!

June 25, 2021
MThomas

It’s becoming increasingly common to see social media posts claiming that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which include those made by Pfizer and Moderna, could alter a person’s DNA. Some posts even suggest that nano-machines are being injected into the body.

https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid/technically-no-longer-human-can-mrna-covid-19-vaccines-meld-with-your-dna/

Yeah, I’ve seen some of these posts. Talked to a neighbor who was convinced Bill Gates was trying to inject us all with a chip to control our minds.

Is there any truth to these rumours? Could an mRNA vaccine be modifying your DNA?

No.

(Read the linked Cosmos article for more details!)

Actually, all you need to do is use logic and reasoning, apply some critical thinking, and demand lots of science-based evidence.

It’s called the Baloney Detection Kit and was introduced in a Cornell University undergraduate course about critical thinking and the scientific method by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

In his book The Demon-haunted World, he lays out nine steps to bust BS and call out unscientific baloney. I use it with my second year undergrad students in a current news and global issues course.

The link above to the kit also outlines some of the most important logical fallacies to avoid, with number 8 and 9 being the most difficult to explain and convince people about (because they involve education about basic statistics).

So will this convince anti-vaxxers who make outlandish claims online?

Probably not. Unless it goes viral 😉.

35 Years Ago: Remembering the Challenger

January 28, 2021
MThomas

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since the disaster that claimed the lives of all seven Space Shuttle Challenger crew members.

I remember it well. Being sent home early without being told. Watching the TV news at home in silent shock with my parents and younger siblings, tears streaming down our faces.

President Reagan’s speech at Congress, made in the place of the traditional State of the Union address, ended with “they slipped the surly bonds of Earth…and touched the face of God.” Probably the finest and most decent thing he ever did (even my parents, who voted for Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and intensely disliked Reagan and everything he stood for, couldn’t help but be moved by his words that day).

Thoughtless jokes circulated our school the next week or two. (“What’s the last thing Christa MacAuliffe said to her husband? “You feed the dog; I’ll feed the fish.”)

Even today, we focus on the school teacher who died and almost ignore the rest of the crew. Something like three dozen schools now bear her name. But NASA engineers have never forgotten. They just find it so difficult, so painful to write and talk about their friends and colleagues who perished.

There was a morbid fascination with the way in which the Challenger crew met their fate. My friends came up with all sorts of gruesome stories they claimed to have “heard,” mostly about body parts washing up on beaches around the Caribbean.

The fact is, we were traumatized. Kids do all sorts of insane things to hide their fears, insecurity, and general inability to answer the question what am I supposed to feel/do/say about this?

Challenger marked a turning point in the US space program. It set NASA back in many ways but also provided great insight into what needed to be fixed, what needed to be done to push forward our knowledge of space and the great beyond.

There is/was no going back. Humanity is a space-faring race and must continue to strive to reach beyond its grasp…”Or what’s a heaven for?”

Remember, honor.

Emulate.

Onward and upward.

75 years and counting

August 9, 2020
MThomas

DSC01148.jpg

14 years ago, my wife and I went to Hiroshima by high-speed ferry boat, on our way back from visiting her parents in Kyushu. Her father’s family comes from Hiroshima (although her father was actually born in Dairen/Dalian (大連), China) and her uncle and his family still live about an hour’s drive north of the city.

It was my first time to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We arrived about a week after the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony and Peace Message Lantern Floating Ceremony, but the museum was a very sharp reminder of the horror that my country visited upon Japan.

August 6th, 8:15 a.m. Hiroshima.

August 9th, 11:02 a.m. Nagasaki. Continue Reading

Just in time for COVID-19 self-isolation and quarantine: A whole lot of online books for (15th to 19th century) kids

March 15, 2020
MThomas

PickeNotteThyNose

Includes such favorites as “pyke notte thyne errys nothyr thy nostrellys” and “spette not ovyr thy tabylle.”

Oh, and there’s some stuff by Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, i.e., Alice in Wonderland) and Axel Scheffler (The Gruffalo), among many others.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/21/pyke-notte-thy-nostrellys-15th-century-guide-on-childrens-manners-digitised-for-first-time

Have some Proxima Centauri with ESPRESSO

January 20, 2020
MThomas

“Proxima is our closest neighbor in an immense universe. How could we not be charmed by it?

Well, the planet may or may not exist (the confirmation data won’t be publicly available for another couple years).

And it is most likely not inhabitable — despite being dubbed a “Super-Earth” (which really only refers to size and not whether it’s “Earth-like” or not).

Still, regardless of these facts, the most important part of this article in Scientific American is the science:

“We tried different tools to prove ourselves wrong, but we failed. However, we have to keep the doors open to all possible doubt and skepticism.

Yes, the astronomers tried to prove their own discovery was a mistake. That’s how it works, folks. Challenge your assumptions, not jump to conclusions. Continue Reading

‘PigeonBot’ Brings Robots Closer To Birdlike Flight

January 18, 2020
MThomas

True story: On the first day of our honeymoon, a pigeon shat on the top of my head as we were walking to the mountain hot spa.

I wonder what would come out of robot pigeons 🤔

— Read on http://www.npr.org/2020/01/16/796786350/pigeonbot-brings-robots-closer-to-bird-like-flight

99.9999999% of Your Body Is Empty Space

January 14, 2020
MThomas

atoms gif.gif

Are you sitting down for this? Well, you’re not really. Your butt isn’t actually touching the chair you’re sitting on. Since the meat of your atoms is nestled away in nuclei, when you ‘touch’ someone (or something), you aren’t actually feeling their atoms.

Nobody has ever really touched anything in their lives.

Sleep tight…

(Not exactly a new article, but still interesting; and, yes, I might be using this to justify an awful lot of my soon-to-be-beta-read new novel 😉

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