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Mon, 16 Jan 2017
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Comets & Asteroids - Summary for November 2016

During the months of November 2016, 1 new comet has been discovered. "Current comet magnitudes" & "Daily updated asteroid flybys" pages are available at the top of this blog (or just click on the underline text here).

The dates below refer to the date of issuance of CBET (Central Bureau Electronic Telegram) which reported the official news & designations.

© K. Battams & M. Knight
Comet Discoveries

Nov 03 Discovery of C/2016 U1 (NEOWISE)

Other news

Nov 02 Newly discovered asteroid 2016 VA came to about 90.000 km from the Earth's surface on the second day of November, reaching magnitude 12. It crossed the Earth shadow for a few minutes (between 23:24-23:35 UT on Nov 01, just 0.3 LD from Earth), challenging astronomers to observe a peculiar "asteroidal eclipse".

Below you can see an animation showing this spectacular event as observed by G. Masi (Virtual Telescope Project). According to Masi: "Each frame comes from a 5-seconds integration. At the eclipse time, the asteroid was moving with an apparent motion of 1500"/minutes".

People 2

What the 99% really resent: Talentless upstarts with no skin in the game

© William Powell Frith
Inequality vs Inequality

There is inequality and inequality.

The first is the inequality people tolerate, such as one's understanding compared to that of people deemed heroes, say Einstein, Michelangelo, or the recluse mathematician Grisha Perelman, in comparison to whom one has no difficulty acknowledging a large surplus. This applies to entrepreneurs, artists, soldiers, heroes, the singer Bob Dylan, Socrates, the current local celebrity chef, some Roman Emperor of good repute, say Marcus Aurelius; in short those for whom one can naturally be a "fan". You may like to imitate them, you may aspire to be like them; but you don't resent them.

The second is the inequality people find intolerable because the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system, and getting himself into rent seeking, acquiring privileges that are not warranted - and although he has something you would not mind having (which may include his Russian girlfriend), he is exactly the type of whom you cannot possibly become a fan. The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don't just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller.

There may be something dissonant in the spectacle of a rich slave.

Comment: Taleb raises some important points. He seems to be approaching something Lobaczewski wrote about in Political Ponerology, namely the need for a national "adaptation correlation index" or "social order indicator":
It is a universal law of nature that the higher a given species' psychological organization, the greater the psychological differences among individual units. Man is the most highly organized species; hence, these variations are the greatest. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, psychological differences occur in all structures of the human personality dealt with here, albeit in terms of necessary over-simplification. Profound psychological variegations may strike some as an injustice of nature, but they are her right and have meaning.

Nature's seeming injustice ... is, in fact, a great gift to humanity, enabling human societies to develop their complex structures and to be highly creative at both the individual and collective level. Thanks to psychological variety, the creative potential of any society is many times higher than it could possibly be if our species were psychologically more homogeneous. Thanks to these variations, the societal structure implicit within can also develop. The fate of human societies depends upon the proper adjustment of individuals within this structure and upon the manner in which innate variations of talents are utilized.

Our experience teaches us that psychological differences among people are the cause of misunderstandings and problems. We can overcome these problems only if we accept psychological differences as a law of nature and appreciate their creative value. This would also enable us to gain an objective comprehension of man and human societies; unfortunately, it would also teach us that equality under the law is inequality under the law of nature.

... the development of an adult human's gifts, skills, realistic thought, and natural psychological world view will be optimal where the level and quality of his education and the demands of his professional practice correspond to his individual talents. Achieving such a position provides personal, material, and moral advantages to him; society as whole also reaps benefits at the same time. Such a person would then perceive it as social justice in relation to himself.
In other words, people have different levels of talent and motivation. But as long as they are in a position that corresponds to their nature, they will be content with the status quo. As Taleb puts it above, "I am certain that [blue-collar Frenchmen] would ask for a new dishwasher, or faster train for their commute, not to bring down some rich businessman invisible to them." People who aren't rich don't resent the rich per se. There's more going on:
If various circumstances combine, including a given society's deficient psychological world view, individuals are forced to exercise functions which do not make full use of his or her talents. When this happens, said person's productivity is no better, and often even worse, than that of a worker with satisfactory talents. Such an individual then feels cheated and inundated by duties which prevent him from achieving self-realization. His thoughts wander from his duties into a world of fantasy, or into matters which are of greater interest to him; in his daydream world, he is what he should and deserves to be. Such a person always knows if his social and professional adjustment has taken a downward direction; at the same time, however, if he fails to develop a healthy critical faculty concerning the upper limits of his own talents, his daydreams may "fix on" an unfair world where "all you need is power". Revolutionary and radical ideas find fertile soil among such people in downward social adaptations. It is in society's best interests to correct such conditions not only for better productivity, but to avoid tragedies.

Another type of individual, on the other hand, may achieve an important post because they belong to privileged social groups or organizations in power while their talents and skills are not sufficient for their duties, especially the more difficult problems. Such persons then avoid the problematic and dedicate themselves to minor matters quite ostentatiously. A component of histrionics appears in their conduct and tests indicate that their correctness of reasoning progressively deteriorates after only a few years' worth of such activities. In the face of increasing pressures to perform at a level unattainable for them, and in fear of being discovered as incompetent, they begin to direct attacks against anyone with greater talent or skill, removing them from appropriate posts and playing an active role in degrading their social and professional adjustment. This, of course, engenders a feeling of injustice and can lead to the problems of the downwardly adapted individual as described above. Upwardly-adjusted people thus favor whip-cracking, totalitarian governments which would protect their positions.
These are the people with no "skin in the game", whose positions are secured for reasons other than their level of ability. As Taleb describes them: "a corporate executive with upside and no financial downside ... is paid according to some metrics that do not necessarily reflect the health of the company; ... he can manipulate, hide risks, get the bonus, then retire (or go to another company) and blame his successor for the subsequent results." When such a state of affairs becomes the norm, revolution is pretty much inevitable.
Upward and downward social adjustments, as well the qualitatively improper ones, result in a waste of any society's basic capital, namely the talent pool of its members. This simultaneously leads to increasing dissatisfaction and tensions among individuals and social groups; any attempt to approach human talent and its productivity problematics as a purely private matter must therefore be considered dangerously naive. Development or involution in all areas of cultural, economic and political life depend on the extent to which this talent pool is properly utilized. In the final analysis, it also determines whether there will be evolution or revolution.

Technically speaking, it would be easier to construct appropriate methods that enable us to evaluate the correlations between individual talents and social adjustment in a given country ... A low correlation would be an indication that social reform is needed. A near-zero or even negative correlation should be interpreted as a danger-sign that revolution is imminent. Revolutions in one country often cause manifold problems for other countries, so it is in the best interests of all countries to monitor such conditions.

The examples adduced above do not exhaust the question of causative factors influencing the creation of a social structure which would adequately correspond to the laws of nature. Our species-instinct level has already encoded the intuition that the existence of society's internal structure, based on psychological variations, is necessary; it continues to develop alongside our basic intelligence, inspiring our healthy common sense. This explains why the most numerous part of populations, whose talents are near average, generally accepts its modest social position in any country as long as the position fulfills the indispensable requirements of proper social adjustment and guarantees an equitable way of life no matter at what level of society the individual finds their proper fit.

This average majority accepts and respects the social role of people whose talents and education are superior, as long as they occupy appropriate positions within the social structure. The same people, however, will react with criticism, disrespect, and even contempt, whenever someone as average as themselves compensates for his deficiencies by flaunting an upwardly-adjusted position. The judgments pronounced by this sphere of average but sensible people can often be highly accurate ...
Again, from Taleb: "the subject appears to be just a person like you, except that he has been playing the system ... The latter category includes bankers, bureaucrats who get rich, former senators shilling for the evil firm Monsanto, clean-shaven chief executives who wear ties, and talking heads on television making outsized bonuses. You don't just envy them; you take umbrage at their fame, and the sight of their expensive or even semi-expensive car trigger some feeling of bitterness. They make you feel smaller."

Consider what Lobaczewski wrote about the U.S. in the 80s with this in mind:
America's psychological recession drags in its wake an impaired socio-professional adaptation of this country's people, leading to a waste of human talent and an involution of societal structure. If we were to calculate this country's adaptation correlation index, as suggested in the prior chapter, it would probably be lower than the great majority of the free and civilized nations of this world, and possibly lower than some countries which have lost their freedom.

A highly talented individual in the USA finds it ever more difficult to fight his way through to self-realization and a socially creative position. Universities, politics, and businesses ever more frequently demonstrate a united front of relatively untalented persons and even incompetent persons. The word "overeducated" is heard more and more often. Such "overqualified" individuals finally hide out in some foundation laboratory where they are allowed to earn the Nobel prize as long as they do not do anything really useful. In the meantime, the country as whole suffers due to a deficit in the inspirational role of highly gifted individuals.

As a result, America is stifling progress in all areas of life, from culture to technology and economics, not excluding political incompetence. When linked to other deficiencies, an egotist's incapability of understanding other people and nations leads to political error and the scapegoating of outsiders. Slamming the brakes on the evolution of political structures and social institutions increases both administrative inertia and discontent on the part of its victims.
In sum, the problem is not inequality per se. (Nor is it "class", "race", "patriarchy", or any other simplistic category.) It is downward and upward adjustment, lack of ergodicity and downward mobility, and the most important element Lobaczewski discusses in his book: the role of psychopaths when they strive for and achieve positions of power. When that happens, they exploit feelings of resentment, catalyze or co-opt revolutions, and create totalitarian systems of repression that make everyday life a living nightmare.


New research shows mutated protein in drug addicts persists after death

Addictive cravings are still persistent after death, finds a new study.

A protein in the reward center of the brain is altered in those suffering from a chemical dependency - it is split off and shortened.

Following numerous autopsies, Austrian researchers found the modified protein in deceased heroin addicts - suggesting cravings for the stimulus continued after their death.

The protein, called FosB, is a transcription factor in the brain which, together with other molecules, is involved in so-called signal transduction (transmission of stimuli to the cells). It is said to convey genetic information between the cells and also determines whether certain genes are activated or not. FosB is part of the activating protein AP1, which is involved with regulating gene expression in response to a range of stimulus, including stress and bacterial infections.

Due to a constant supply of drugs, such as heroin, FosB turns into DeltaFosB, which is increasingly stimulated in cases of chronic use and even influences growth factors and structural changes (neuronal plasticity) in the brain - approximately in the region where memory is formed


Apple eyes self-driving cars in first AI paper - outlines computer training technique called 'simulated+unsupervised'

© Toby Melville / Reuters
Researchers at Apple recently published their first paper on artificial intelligence (AI). The paper introduces new ways to teach machines how to recognize images, likely to be a major part of their self-driving car technology.

The paper, titled "Learning from Simulated and Unsupervised Images through Adversarial Training," was written by Ashish Shrivastava and his colleagues, and published through the Cornell University Library. In the paper, researchers introduce the idea of training AI with synthetic images, created by computers, alongside real world images.

Researchers at Apple claim that synthetic images are easier for a computer to recognize because they contain data like annotations and labels that can help the computer recognize individual parts.

However, computers also have difficulties in translating the lessons they learn from synthetic images into their real-world counterparts. The paper from Apple explains that data from synthetic images is "often not realistic enough, leading the network to learn details only present in synthetic images and fail to generalize well on real images."

To improve AI learning, the paper suggests a "Simulated+Unsupervised" training method, where a simulated image is combined with a real world image to create a "refined" image.

Comment: Like all technology, this development could cut both ways. Will the advent of AI cause human beings to abdicate more and more personal responsibility for their lives?


Global Virome Project: A proposition to catalog more than a million viruses we know absolutely nothing about

One by one, the viruses have slipped from their hiding places in nature to threaten global populations — SARS, MERS, Zika.

In each case, scientists have scrambled to identify the viruses and to develop vaccines or drugs to stop their spread. After each crisis, the assessment has been the same: Countermeasures were not ready in time to help in the containment effort.

"Always too late," said Jonna Mazet, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, who is keen to break the bugs' winning streak. "We need to think about something different."

Mazet is a key player in an ambitious endeavor called the Global Virome Project, which has proposed cataloguing nearly all of the unknown viruses lurking in nature around the world. In a nutshell, Mazet and other experts want to search out mystery threats before they find us.


Long-lost Nikola Tesla drawings reveal map to multiplication

© Nikola Tesla, Tesla, Wardenclyffe

A recently discovered set of original Nikola Tesla drawings reveal a map to multiplication that contains all numbers in a simple to use system. The drawings were discovered at an antique shop in central Phoenix Arizona by local artist, Abe Zucca. They are believed to have been created during the last years of Tesla's Free Energy lab, Wardenclyffe. The manuscript is thought to contain many solutions to unanswered questions about mathematics.

The Sketches were hidden in a small trunk with numerous other drawings and manuscripts ranging from hand-held technological devices to free-energy systems, many with notes scrawled all over them. Some of the pieces are already familiar to the public, but a few others are not. Most notably is the Map to Multiplication or the Math Spiral. Zucca made a few copies and showed the drawings around to different thinkers, dreamers, and mathematicians.

Grey Alien

New strategy for alien contact: Scientists say start with basic etiquette

© ESO/M. Kornmesser

METI aims to send messages to the potentially Earth-like exoplanet Proxima b, as imagined by an artist. Here it is orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our solar system.
After decades of fruitless scanning the skies for alien messages, scientists say it's time to try a basic rule of etiquette: Say "hello" first.

We should broadcast our own signal to E.T., rather than just waiting for it to call us, as prevailing projects have done. That's the vision of a new San Francisco-based organization called METI, or Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.

By the end of 2018, the project aims to send some conversation-starters via radio or laser signals — the mathematical equivalent of "we're here and would love to chat!" — to a rocky planet circling our nearest star Proxima Centauri, then out to more distant neighborhoods, hundreds or thousands of light years away.


World's oldest mummies undergo scans and DNA tests to shed light on ancient anatomy

© Reuters
The world's oldest mummified remains have gotten medical attention more than 7,000 years after being left by the Chinchorro civilization in what is modern-day Chile. They are getting tomography scans and DNA analysis to provide clues about ancient humans.

Fifteen of the mummies, mostly children and unborn babies, were put through computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans last week at the Los Condes clinic in Santiago, Chile, AFP reported on Sunday.

"We collected thousands of images with a precision of less than one millimeter," said chief radiologist Marcelo Galvez.


Six more fast radio bursts have been discovered coming from the same mystery cosmic source

Repeating FRBs came from same location far beyond the Milky Way where 10 had previously been detected.
© iStock
FRBs are mystery radio bursts from deep space that last for just a few milliseconds
Six additional repeating fast radio bursts have been discovered coming the same unknown source in space. The FRBs came from the same region beyond the Milky Way where 10 bursts had previously been detected - and their discovery should give a greater insight into what caused them.

FRBs are radio signals from deep space that last just a few milliseconds. The first FRB was detected in 2001 and since then over a dozen have been found in telescope data. However, these all appeared to be one-off events, with no two bursts coming from the same location. This means follow-up observations were not possible, keeping their source a mystery.

Current theories as to their cause involve a cataclysmic event like a neutron star collapsing into a black hole or a supernova. Another option is they are coming from a young, highly magnetised, extragalactic neutron star.


Scientists analyze and "translate" bat talk: Turns out, they argue—a lot

© Michal Samuni-Blank

The Egyptian fruit bat is a highly social mammal that roosts (and argues) in crowded colonies
A machine learning algorithm helped decode the squeaks Egyptian fruit bats make in their roost, revealing that they "speak" to one another as individuals

Plenty of animals communicate with one another, at least in a general way—wolves howl to each other, birds sing and dance to attract mates and big cats mark their territory with urine. But researchers at Tel Aviv University recently discovered that when at least one species communicates, it gets very specific. Egyptian fruit bats, it turns out, aren't just making high pitched squeals when they gather together in their roosts. They're communicating specific problems, reports Bob Yirka at Phys.org.

According to Ramin Skibba at Nature, neuroecologist Yossi Yovel and his colleagues recorded a group of 22 Egyptian fruit bats, Rousettus aegyptiacus, for 75 days. Using a modified machine learning algorithm originally designed for recognizing human voices, they fed 15,000 calls into the software. They then analyzed the corresponding video to see if they could match the calls to certain activities.

They found that the bat noises are not just random, as previously thought, reports Skibba. They were able to classify 60 percent of the calls into four categories. One of the call types indicates the bats are arguing about food. Another indicates a dispute about their positions within the sleeping cluster. A third call is reserved for males making unwanted mating advances and the fourth happens when a bat argues with another bat sitting too close. In fact, the bats make slightly different versions of the calls when speaking to different individuals within the group, similar to a human using a different tone of voice when talking to different people. Skibba points out that besides humans, only dolphins and a handful of other species are known to address individuals rather than making broad communication sounds. The research appears in the journal Scientific Reports.