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Sat, 24 Feb 2018
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Snowflake Cold

Study shows the sun will be unusually cool by 2050

cooling sun
© Xinhua/Then Chih Wey
Sun makes a silhouette of the cable car as it sets in Singapore on Jan. 31, 2018.
The sun might be unusually cool by 2050, according to a new study.

Based on the cooling spiral of recent solar cycles, scientists from University of California, San Diego believe the next "grand-minimum" is just decades away, during which the sun will be 7 percent cooler.

A grand-minimum, according to the study, is a period of very low solar activity, which will lead to lower temperature on earth.

During the grand-minimum in the mid-17th century, named Maunder Minimum, the temperature dropped low enough to freeze the Thames River.

However, the cooling is not uniform around the globe. Despite the chilling weather in Europe during the Maunder Minimum, other areas such as Alaska and southern Greenland warmed.

Comment: Those scientists are still drinking the global warming kool-aid. There's considerable evidence for the link between the sun's cycle and ice ages. See also:


New electronic skin is self-healable and recyclable

Electronic Skin
© Twitter
CU Boulder researchers have developed a new type of malleable, self-healing and fully recyclable "electronic skin" that has applications ranging from robotics and prosthetic development to better biomedical devices.

Electronic skin, known as e-skin, is a thin, translucent material that can mimic the function and mechanical properties of human skin. A number of different types and sizes of wearable e-skins are now being developed in labs around the world as researchers recognize their value in diverse medical, scientific and engineering fields.

The new CU Boulder e-skin has sensors embedded to measure pressure, temperature, humidity and air flow, said Jianliang Xiao, an assistant professor in CU Boulder's Department of Mechanical Engineering who is leading the research effort with Wei Zhang, an associate professor in CU Boulder's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as a faculty member in the Materials Science and Engineering Program.

The technology has several distinctive properties, including a novel type of covalently bonded dynamic network polymer, known as polyimine that has been laced with silver nanoparticles to provide better mechanical strength, chemical stability and electrical conductivity.


Dangerous knowledge: Monopoly of Consensus Science

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."

That's very true.
Misinformation - scientist and politicains
© University of Concerned Scientists
In a mild way, the quote also illustrates itself since it is so often attributed wrongly; perhaps most often to Mark Twain but also to other humorists - Will Rogers, Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard - as well as to inventor Charles Kettering, pianist Eubie Blake, baseball player Yogi Berra, and more ("Bloopers: Quote didn't really originate with Will Rogers").

Such mis-attributions of insightful sayings are perhaps the rule rather than any exception; sociologist Robert Merton even wrote a whole book (On the Shoulders of Giants, Free Press 1965 & several later editions) about mis-attributions over many centuries of the modest acknowledgment that "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

Comment: See also:


Neurons are even more complex than we thought

cat feline pet
© Photo by Paul on Unsplash
One of the biggest misconceptions around is the idea that Deep Learning (DL) or Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) mimic biological neurons. At best, ANN mimic a cartoonish version of a 1957 model of a neuron. Anyone claiming Deep Learning is biologically inspired is in doing so for marketing purposes or has never bother to read the biological literature. Neurons in Deep Learning are essentially mathematical functions that perform a similarity function of its inputs against internal weights. The closer a match is made, the more likely an action is performed (i.e. not sending a signal to zero). There are exceptions to this model (see: Autoregressive networks) however it is general enough to include the perceptron, convolution networks and RNNs.

Neurons are very different from DL constructs. The don't maintain continuous signals but rather exhibit spiking (or event driven) behavior. So, when you hear about "neuromorphic" hardware, then these are inspired on "integrate and spike" neurons. These kinds of system at best get a lot of press (see: IBM TrueNorth), but have never been shown to be effective. There has been some research work however that has shown some progress. If you ask me, if you truly want to build biologically inspired cognition, then you should at the very least explore systems that are not continuous like DL. Biological systems by their very nature will use the least amount of energy to survive. DL systems in stark contrast are power hungry. That's because DL is a brute-force method to achieve cognition. We know it works, we just don't know how to scale it down.

Jeff Hawkins of Numenta has always lamented that a more biologically-inspired approach is needed. So, in his research in building cognitive machinery, he has architected system that try to more closely mirror the structure of the neo-cortex. Numenta's model of a neuron is considerably more elaborate than the Deep Learning model of a neuron as you can see in this graphic:

neurons graphic
© https://www.slideshare.net/numenta/realtime-streaming-data-analysis-with-htm


This could get bad: Earth's magnetic field is shifting - which may well cause the poles to flip

pole reversal
The shield that protects the Earth from solar radiation is under attack from within. We can't prevent it, but we ought to prepare.

One day in 1905, the French geophysicist Bernard Brunhes brought back to his lab some rocks he'd unearthed from a freshly cut road near the village of Pont Farin. When he analyzed their magnetic properties, he was astonished at what they showed: Millions of years ago, the Earth's magnetic poles had been on the opposite sides of the planet. North was south and south was north. The discovery spoke of planetary anarchy. Scientists had no way to explain it.

Today, we know that the poles have changed places hundreds of times, most recently 780,000 years ago. (Sometimes, the poles try to reverse positions but then snap back into place, in what is called an excursion. The last time was about 40,000 years ago.) We also know that when they flip next time, the consequences for the electrical and electronic infrastructure that runs modern civilization will be dire. The question is when that will happen.

Comment: See also: The Earth's magnetic poles may reverse soon


Sunspots are not from Solar Interior

Sunspot caused by impact
© Acksblog
Fig. 1. A sunspot caused by the impact of a Kreutz sungrazing asteroid, 2000 C cooler than the photosphere. Umbra, containing water and iron is moving inward at 30,000 km/hr.
Until about 20 years ago, helio-scientists believed sunspots were caused by some mysterious magnetic process within the Sun that has periods of about eleven years, because they could not conceive of a regular rain of bodies crashing into the Sun. Then SOHO, STEREO and other Sun-staring satellites observed over 3,000 such bodies, called Kreutz sungrazers, all in the same unique orbit, every one of which disappeared into the Sun. These are referred to as 'comets', because when they get close to the Sun, they leave trails, but none of these have been observed in the vicinity of the Earth. Although comets are imagined to comprise solely water, no such bodies have ever been observed close-up. When approached by probes, every one of them has displayed a solid core. Comets are merely 'leaking' asteroids. Despite the observations of these bodies hundreds of papers are being written attempting to explain the magnetic process within the Sun which creates the sunspots.

The > 3,000 Kreutz sungrazers are unique in ways that were not known until 2014, when the Rosetta mission approached and orbited 'comet' 67P C-G. Although this body emitted a few streaks of gas, it was never visible from Earth, except by powerful telescopes and thousands more are circulating unobserved. The belief that it was just water ice, because of its low density 0.5 g/cm3, the popular image of 'comets', was disproven when Rosetta's 200 lb. lander Philae, equipped with spikes that were supposed to penetrate the ice and become locked on the surface, failed to penetrate and Philae bounced off the surface. This is the same tough stuff that comprises all asteroids. Rosetta images of 67P belie its low reflected radiance, only 4% of the incident light. The brightness of the Kreutz tails as they approach the Sun are used to estimate their mass, assuming they are pure water ice, and when they become invisible the 'comet' is imagined to have been consumed before impact. But they all have the same composition as 67P, which is obviously much tougher than water ice. That assumption leads to estimates of their diameters of several meters. However, 67P, was measured to be about 4 km in diameter. Images acquired by Rosetta show only a few thin streams of vapor - nothing like what would produce a large tail.

Another pertinent factor about the 3,000+ Kreutz sungrazers is that not a single one survived their close encounters with the Sun. This is well illustrated by a NASA video constructed using data from several Sun staring satellites. Despite this, astronomers claim that these 'comets' are not the cause of sunspots, because of their estimated size. Attempts to explain their origin as the result of the break-up of large comets thousands of years ago are futile, since all the fragments would be placed in different orbits. The 3,000 Kreutz sungrazers in exactly the same orbit dismisses this argument.


Researchers turn to video games to improve hearing loss

hearing aid video game
© Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock.com
Video games can help train the brain to hear better.
Roughly 15 percent of Americans report some sort of hearing difficulty; trouble understanding conversations in noisy environments is one of the most common complaints. Unfortunately, there's not much doctors or audiologists can do. Hearing aids can amplify things for ears that can't quite pick up certain sounds, but they don't distinguish between the voice of a friend at a party and the music in the background. The problem is not only one of technology, but also of brain wiring.

Most hearing aid users say that even with their hearing aids, they still have difficulty communicating in noisy environments. As a neuroscientist who studies speech perception, this issue is prominent in much of my own research, as well as that of many others. The reason isn't that they can't hear the sounds; it's that their brains can't pick out the conversation from the background chatter.

Harvard neuroscientists Dan Polley and Jonathon Whitton may have found a solution, by harnessing the brain's incredible ability to learn and change itself. They have discovered that it may be possible for the brain to relearn how to distinguish between speech and noise. And the key to learning that skill could be a video game.


Bioremediation: A microscopic fungus could mop up nuclear waste

This strain of the yeast Rhodotorula taiwanensis could one day help clean up radioactive waste
This hardcore yeast thrives amidst acid and radiation.

During the Cold War, the United States produced a truly mind-boggling amount of radioactive waste. We failed to properly dispose of much of that sludge, and it's been leaking from underground storage tanks since the 1950s. Over the years it has contaminated more than 2 billion cubic feet worth of soil and nearly 800 billion gallons of groundwater at low levels.

Cleaning this mess up will be a daunting task, but scientists have just enlisted a new ally. It turns out our best bet for containing radioactive waste might be to stick yeast on it. Many of these tiny fungi can survive extremely radioactive and acidic conditions, scientists reported January 8 in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. What's more, they form gunk called biofilms that could potentially trap the waste.


The pirate queen of science

Alexandra Elbakyan is plundering the academic publishing establishment
Alex Castro art
© Alex Castro
In cramped quarters at Russia's Higher School of Economics, shared by four students and a cat, sat a server with 13 hard drives. The server hosted Sci-Hub, a website with over 64 million academic papers available for free to anybody in the world. It was the reason that, one day in June 2015, Alexandra Elbakyan, the student and programmer with a futurist streak and a love for neuroscience blogs, opened her email to a message from the world's largest publisher: "YOU HAVE BEEN SUED."

It wasn't long before an administrator at Library Genesis, another pirate repository named in the lawsuit, emailed her about the announcement. "I remember when the administrator at LibGen sent me this news and said something like 'Well, that's... that's a real problem.' There's no literal translation," Elbakyan tells me in Russian. "It's basically 'That's an ass.' But it doesn't translate perfectly into English. It's more like 'That's f*cked up. We're f*cked.'"

Sci-Hub posed a direct threat to the academic publishers' business model



'Bulletproof wood': Scientists just figured out how to make wood as strong as steel

© Anne Kauranen / AFP
Scientists at the University of Maryland have fortified wood using a process which makes it 12 times stronger, producing a natural substance more durable than many titanium alloys and capable of stopping high-speed projectiles.

"This could be a competitor to steel or even titanium alloys, it is so strong and durable. It's also comparable to carbon fiber, but much less expensive," said Liangbing Hu, head of the research team at UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering, in a press release. "This new way to treat wood makes it 12 times stronger than natural wood and 10 times tougher."

The team of researchers boiled different varieties of wood in a caustic solution of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfite for seven hours. This process removes some of the compounds that surround the cellulose in the wood, creating additional space within. They then pressed the block at 100 degrees Celsius for an entire day. This reduced the wood to one fifth its original thickness but increased its density threefold.