Captain Caaavemaaan Open Thread

Hiya folks,

Time once again for weekend science fun, this time with an oddly high number of stories about our evolutionary ancestors and hominid cousins.

(Which according to the Creationists never existed.)

Captain Caveman

Captain Caveman

Regarding the post title: If you’re too young to remember Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoons and ‘Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels‘… well, go get your old auntie a drink will ya, and I’ll tell you long stories about the days when animation was total crap and we kids regularly overdosed on sugar.

Given it was the 70s and, well, Disco, it’s no wonder we all turned to the hard stuff to cope with the bleak cultural wasteland that would be our futures. It also probably explains why so many of my generation grew up to be Reagan Republican douche-nozzles. I apologize for that.

With that out of the way, on to the science news:

Neanderthal male reconstruction (John Gurge; photo: Tim Evanson, Creative Commons license)

Neanderthal male reconstruction (John Gurge; photo: Tim Evanson, Creative Commons license)

Our Neanderthal cousins not only had culture, art, and sophisticated burial practices, they also used toothpicks to alleviate the symptoms of periodontal disease.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists in Great Britain, on the channel island of Jersey, believe they’ve found a long-lost Neanderthal camp. According to the linked story, it’s one of the last places “late-Neanderthals” have been found in northwest Europe, estimated to be between 100,000 and 47,000 years ago.

One recent find in the Republic of Georgia, hominid skulls dating back to 1.8m years ago, would seem to indicate that some of the wide degree of variation in physical characteristics among the fossils we’ve found could all actually be the same human species.

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Not so fast, says another group of researchers, who think that some of what happened was a whole lot of interbreeding between the semi-modern hominid subspecies.  A demarcation known as ‘Wallace’s Line’ refers to the physical barriers of islands and ocean currents that caused Australia’s and Indonesia’s mammal populations to diverge from the rest of Asia. The realization is that the Indonesian ‘Denisovan’ hominids might very well have been able to cross back into Asia — and were still close enough to the rest of the human species to interbreed.

Chimpanzees can ‘catch’ yawning from humans, too.

Meanwhile, marmoset monkeys have polite conversations, taking turns to speak even when they cannot see each other.

John Cleese - And now for somethingAnd now it’s time for something completely different–

From the “Derp!” files: Watching too much TV increases the chance of heart disease in young adults.

Google is researching immortality. Yes, you read that correctly. Actually, it’s one of Google’s co-founders, Larry Page, who started a company to look into a ‘cure for aging.’ Next up, a sneaky way to market directly to your telemeres…

Despite the recent federal government shutdown and near total furloughing of NASA, the Curiosity rover has confirmed that certain meteorites found here on Earth that were thought to have come from Mars actually did. The Argon isotope numbers are dead-on.

SpaceX does it again: For the first time after launch, they re-lit a first stage rocket booster, part of their Falcon 9 v1.1 launcher. This is part of their ongoing push to develop a fully reusable launch system — in this case, the re-light being necessary to allow for a future soft-landing of the rocket’s first stage. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect test, in that the second re-light resulted in too much spin. Still, it’s never been done before.

Etruscan princess...and husband? (Photo credit: Mandolesi)

Etruscan princess…and husband? (Photo credit: Mandolesi)

Etruscan women’s liberation. Who would’ve thunk it? A 2,600 year old tomb was found with what was thought to be an Etruscan prince, with the burned body of his wife beside him, and him holding a spear. However, when the genetic tests came back, it turned out the ‘prince’ was actually a princess, and the other body, her companion, was male.

Altruism might very well be genetic, at least in part. There’s a particular gene sequence known as 5-HTTLPR, which helps regulate serotonin production — which is the complicated way of saying some people just get a bigger jolt of brain happy juice when they’re nice to others.

Current computer hard drives only last about 10 years before the data on them is lost due to magnetic degradation. CDs and DVDs are said to last not that much longer. How about something that can store data for… oh, let’s say one billion years. That’s right — it could easily outlast the entire human race. How? An etched wafer of tungsten encapsulated by silicon nitride just might do the trick.

And with that — today’s open thread


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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20 Responses to “Captain Caaavemaaan Open Thread”

  1. maria says:

    Barbara is more of the shar pei people.

  2. karmanot says:

    Yes!

  3. Zorba says:

    Yeh. Mr. Zorba has been a scientist (counting graduate school) for over forty years. He still uses handwritten-on-paper lab notebooks.
    Oh, heck, when he is writing a paper for submission to a journal, he writes it out longhand first, then has his secretary transcribe it (I’ve always felt sorry for his secretaries, because his handwriting is atrocious- I can barely read it). Then he goes back to add the graphs and other visuals to it electronically.
    He says he thinks better when he is writing it out in longhand. Plus, he likes to have paper copies, anyway, because of the inherent problems with digital storage over the long term.

  4. ArthurH says:

    Lizard People? Didn’t they have them on the original “Star Trek”? The people whose captain told Kirk “I will be merciful and quiiiicckkk!”? Nope! Couldn’t be what passes for a Conservative these days. They’re more likely to be vindictive and drag things out as they did during the shutdown.

  5. Monoceros Forth says:

    I know that there have been computerized systems for taking lab notes but really there’s no substitute for paper. A paper lab notebook has this huge advantage as well: with a few simple precautions it’s much harder to fake.

  6. Indigo says:

    I agree but I suspect that living a full life while we’re here is the key to recognizing the joyful aspect of the departure.

  7. karmanot says:

    Oh Fixer be careful. Barbara Bush and Mitchel McConnell will get ya.

  8. karmanot says:

    I love every minute of life, but I tell ya, getting off this planet will be the greatest blessing.

  9. karmanot says:

    Yep, wrote a dissertation on 4X5 cards. Best thing is, that I didn’t lose all that information in a shoebox when the grid failed. ;-)

  10. Zorba says:

    Mr. Zorba and I happened to attend a lecture once given by an older scientists, to an audience largely composed of college and graduate students. The lecturer showed some slides he had made from a few pages in his handwritten lab notebook. One of the kids raised his hand and asked the scientist why he still wrote in notebooks. The scientist answered, “Do any of know about or use 5 1/2 inch disks, or even have a computer that will accept them?”
    Enough said.

  11. BeccaM says:

    Before they started in on the gay-bashing, many of Russia’s neo-Nazi fascist gangs, including the one led by Maxim Martsinkevich (aka ‘Tesak’), got their start assaulting immigrants.

    They switched their more visible violence to LGBTs after getting the official okie-dokey by Putin, the Duma, and the Russian Orthodox Church.

  12. Hue-Man says:

    Welcome to friendly Russia! “An Azerbaijani man arrested in the killing of a 25-year-old Russian man
    that set off an anti-immigrant rampage over the weekend in Moscow confessed to the crime, Russian officials said Wednesday, but he told investigators that he acted in self-defense after trying to intervene inan argument between the man and his girlfriend.”

    “In the violence that followed the stabbing, local residents stormed a vegetable market where many immigrants work, beating immigrants, destroying stalls, overturning cars and clashing with the police.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/world/europe/immigrant-held-in-russia-killing-that-led-to-unrest.html?_r=0

    I’ll refrain from making any comparisons to the TeaParty/GOP and will ignore all the right-wing American gay-haters who have cozying up to Putin because he’s putting the gays in their place. If you drive out the gays and all foreigners – especially those of color, Sochi 2014 is looking like a 100%-pure Russian affair. BTW, are foreign athletes and coaches likely to be attacked for not being Russian or is that treatment reserved only for the gays?

  13. The_Fixer says:

    Yes, indeed.

    The only hope to save this stuff is to keep transferring it to newer media. And we humans are not too good at keeping up with that stuff.

    Oddly, the media that seems to have the greatest forward compatibility is the lowest-tech and it’s the one we’re trying to get rid of: paper.

    Interestingly enough, when we sent Voyager into space, we equipped it with a gold phonograph record along with picture instructions on how to make a crude player. Durable, easily decoded and required a minimum of easily constructed hardware to retrieve the data.

    There seems to be a technological plateau when it comes to preserving data over a very long period of time. Being too complex seems to work against us, but it’s necessary to have some level of technology in order to do so.

    Maybe we should all go back to punch-cards :)

  14. The_Fixer says:

    I prefer lizard-people.

  15. The_Fixer says:

    Yeah.

    I would think that, after 100 years – let alone 200-1,000 years, you just get tired of the whole experience and want to be done with it. I’ve actually heard some older people (>90) say that. I know that we’re all supposed to treat every day as a blessing and all that crap. At some point, you probably have damn near seen it all, or at least as much as you want to see.

    Another thing: People need purpose in their lives, along with respect and dignity. The way we treat our old people is hardly dignified and our youth-centered culture puts older people on the shelf to be ignored. Which is sad, we can use the accumulated knowledge of older people as we seem to repeatedly make the same mistakes in government and social policy.

    Then there’s overpopulation. Let’s say that people can live 200 years, and are healthy enough to work 175 years. That means a much greater resource load – economically, environmentally and socially.

    Imagine what family Thanksgivings would be like with 200 or more people. You’d never remember all of their names!

    I’m with Indigo. Concentrate on giving people a better quality of life.

  16. pappyvet says:

    Here’s an interesting PBS story about the Skull found in Dmanisi, Georgia.

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/july-dec13/ancestry2_10-18.html

  17. Indigo says:

    The issue I don’t see the Transhumanist (longevity) project addressing is personal finance. How the frack do they expect to pay the bills for a human life lasting 200 or 300 or even 1,000 years? Social Security? C’mon! P90X is all well and good and, for some people, fun, and power yoga is terrific if you’re up to it, but the fact of the matter is that all quinoa and no fat makes for a mighty dull personality. Dull for 1,000 years? No thanks. It’s Quality, baby, not Quantity that makes a life a Life.

  18. Indigo says:

    Yes, exactly! Neanderthals generated art. The Conservatives are in fact Troglodytes.

  19. nicho says:

    I wish people would stop calling Conservatives Neanderthals. Neanderthals were far more advanced — and nicer people — than today’s Conservatives. They lived communally and took care of the sick and elderly. Conservatives hate the sick and elderly and want them to die.

  20. HeartlandLiberal says:

    One of the results of the rush to digitize most information over the last 10 – 15 years? That most of it will be lost to future history. And by future, that may well mean only a very few years, not even a decade. Media storage technology evolves and changes so fast, that much data stored only 20 years ago on mainframe computer tapes now presents severe problems to anyone wanting to retrieve it. Because you have to have the tape drives, the computer, and the OS. And most of them are vanishing species. Here is an excellent article on what is happening, worth a read.

    Here are a few paragraphs:

    In fact, the threat of lost or corrupted data faces anyone who relies on
    digital media to store documents — and these days, that’s practically
    everyone. Digital information is so simple to create and store, we
    naturally think it will be easily and accurately preserved for the
    future. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, our digital
    information — everything from photos of loved ones to diagrams of Navy
    ships — is at risk of degrading, becoming unreadable or disappearing
    altogether.

    The problem is both immediately apparent and invisible to the average
    citizen. It crops up when our hard drive crashes, or our new computer
    lacks a floppy disk drive, or our online e-mail service goes out of
    business and takes our correspondence with it. We consider these types
    of data loss scenarios as personal catastrophes. Writ large, they are
    symptomatic of a growing crisis. If the software and hardware we use to
    create and store information are not inherently trustworthy over time,
    then everything we build using that information is at risk.

    Large government and academic institutions began grappling with the
    problem of data loss years ago, with little substantive progress to
    date. Experts in the field agree that if a solution isn’t worked out
    soon, we could end up leaving behind a blank spot in history. “Quite a
    bit of this period could conceivably be lost,” says Jeff Rothenberg, a
    computer scientist with the Rand Corp. who has studied digital
    preservation.

    Throughout most of our past, preserving information for posterity was
    mostly
    a matter of stashing photographs, letters and other documents in a safe
    place. Personal
    accounts from the Civil War can still be read today because people took
    pains to save letters, but how many of the millions of e-mails sent home
    by U.S. servicemen and servicewomen from the front lines in Iraq will
    be accessible a century from now?

    One irony of the Digital Age is that archiving has become a more complex
    process than it was in the past. You not only have to save the physical
    discs, tapes and drives that hold your data, but you also need to make
    sure those media are compatible with the hardware and software of the
    future. “Most people haven’t recognized that digital stuff is encoded in
    some format that requires software to render it in a form that humans
    can perceive,” Rothenberg says. “Software that knows how to render those
    bits becomes
    obsolete. And it runs on computers that become obsolete.”

    The Digital Ice Age

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