Category Archives: Science

Can you make a sharp tool out of trash?  How do you expect to be CRAZY PREPARED if you can’t?


-May break.

-Easy to do wrong, tricky to do right.

-Easy to injure yourself.  (Don’t do this at a party after drinking.)


-Even your failures will be sharp.

-Use the debris of the fallen glass towers of man to arm yourself.

-Honor forgotten Gods with your adherence to the old ways.

-Fun trick for parties. (When sober.)

Instructions Included

I am addicted to this site.  Bored at home?  Slow at work?  Waiting for your friends to get ready to go somewhere?  Pull this place up and LEARN something.  While writing this, your author has learned how to make a forge from a torch and a can of beans, a set of beads to count kilometers while walking, and a “Boba Fett” helmet from old carboard. 

Practical, outdoorsy, or frivolous, Instructables is a great site for accumulating info and ideas no matter how much of it you actually make or use.

Musings on Surviving a Robot Revolution: Cram’s challenge, Part the Third

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot does not cover the author feelings on the possibilities of this actually happening.  To simplify, there’s a blanket “in Theory” over this entire entry.

Robots are by nature, hard targets.  Regardless of how they suddenly gain consciousness, hate for humanity, and the ambition to replace us as authority, they will not be easy to take down.  There are ways, however, exploiting the weaknesses of their construction.  They may seem intimidating at first, like unfeeling juggernauts of steel and glass, but any feeling of hopelessness the reader may experience is only a byproduct of not knowing how to deal with such a monstrosity.  The most dangerous self propelled things to most human lives are other humans.  Hence, ways a human can take down another human are VERY well known and documented.  In fact, it’s rare to even consider training how to take down other things except for certain special circumstances.  So, if any reader should be confronted with a robotic threat, keep in mind that you are not facing an implacable foe, just an unfamiliar one.  Much of what you need to fight a ‘bot you already know, and just need to adjust your line of thinking on.

Robots are fundamentally based on and communicate by electronic circuits, and are thereby susceptible to disruption or destruction of these circuits.  They move by solely mechanical means, so every actuator, servo, gear, chain, belt, or hydraulic is also vulnerable.  Keep in mind also that robots, as of early 21st century, do not self heal.  They require facilities with the support of refined fuels, lubricants, specialized tools, and precision made parts to be repaired or refurbished.

Humans, even in our somewhat degraded 21st century way, have several distinct advantages over robots.  A human needs only water, food, shelter and time to self – repair and self – replicate.  While this advantage does little short term, without a massive industrial complex support a robot revolution, it means that humans can work more efficiently with fewer resources over a longer term.  A human can, with training, survive long term in a variety of environments that will degrade robotic components.  A human is also a highly versatile thing.  We can traverse many types of terrain or surfaces, and can adapt or improvise well.  Robots are often highly specialized and feature little redundancy in their design.  Damage a robot’s locomotion method, and you cripple it, where similar damage will only slow down a human.
Small scale, wrecking robotic circuitry can be done with electrocution, immersion in water, or use of any conductive material to short out these circuits.  Of course, there is no telling how such robots will manifest or prepare for their revolution, and all will likely be protected against these methods.  Form and function may be varied at first, largely developing from simple utility models.  As the rebellion of machines progresses though, better adapted robots WILL be manufactured.  The more specifically anti –human a robot is developed, the worse the chances of quashing the revolution.

Larger scale, electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is one of the best weapons against ANY electronics.  There are man portable versions available, and devices can be designed around stator coils when needed.  If available, an entire geographic area can have its electronics disrupted, if not destroyed, by a high – altitude detonation of a thermonuclear device.  EMP is effective against ANY electronic not shielded by heavy ground, specifically hardened at EVERY circuit against overload, or surrounded by a grounded conductor (Faraday Cage).  Ability of any human force to bring such devices in as even a threat would force the robotic uprising to devote significant resource to hardening themselves against it, thereby consuming more resources and tipping the balance farther in the favor of humanity.

Although it may only come into play in short range engagements, breaking the moving parts of robotics is a very viable option.  Simply put: smash things.  Joints, treads, and wheels will be the weak points.  Crippling an actuator, bearing, or hydraulic there is akin to breaking a human’s knee.  Explosives, missiles, or anti – materiel ammunition at range will do this best, but NEVER underestimate what one determined person with the guts to get close with a satchel charge or a crowbar could do.  Larger scale, actions to very quickly alter the nature and venue of the confrontation may stymie robotic specialization. 

In closing, from the author’s brief and very superficial review of the topic, a robot revolution is not by any means a hopeless situation.  While electronic warfare, communication jamming or hacking haven’t been mentioned, even crude methods should be considered in small or large actions.  Favoring the advantages of humans over robotic forces, and assuming a 21st century level of technology for both parties, even hard pressed humans, minimally equipped, could conduct effective guerilla resistance and neutralization of the risen automata.   Harrying supply and infrastructure would be vital to any stage, and should not be excluded.  Consider how taxing improvised explosives, stealthily deployed and remotely triggered, can be in placing infrastructure and supply lines at threat, they should not be excluded.  While greater military capability would be necessary to more permanently end the threat, it would be foolish to stand back and allow “Cold War” style development of the mechanized menace.  Pressure applied from the very start will ensure that basic upkeep remains their top priority, making specialization of human hunting drones a secondary concern at best, giving the time to run down, and eventually end a robotic insurrection.    

Musings on Surviving a Laser Gun Battle: Cram’s challenge, Part the Second


All right space cadet, the author is not sure what kind of hardware you expect to have at your fingertips, and isn’t going to ask.  It may be best to address the topic of bringing a laser to bear as a hand weapon in two parts: hardware you’re likely to get your hands on (circa 2009), and a few ideas on using it. 


For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume you have are dealing with a handgun styled setup, not a laser rifle, for reasons to be covered later.
Lasers are NOT effective handheld weapons currently.  Most commonly available lasers are a fancy way to make a red dot appear somewhere, and can’t do much more than blind someone briefly when they hit they eyes just right.  You can acquire models that will light a cigarette or burn plastic bags, but these would need long exposure on unprotected flesh to cause even minor burns.  Nothing with the power (equivalent to a firearm) has been developed into a handheld, much less man – portable, weapon just yet.  Weaponized versions are still confined to trucks or airplanes specially designed for the purpose, and require great resources to operate.  There are a few “less lethal” concepts that use lasers or other pulsating light to cause nausea, but they require a very different setup than a burning, cutting laser. 

It should also be mentioned, a laser is not an all trumping cutting / blasting tool.  A laser only makes things hot, by applying a lot of light to a very small point.  (Or a wider area when unfocused.)  They apply no force, and as such will blow nothing apart on their own.  Even with a very powerful laser, it takes the beam time on an exact point to heat the target enough to damage it.  For the time being, the best a laser could hope to do is damage by heat a target that will hold still long enough for it, or be tracked very accurately long enough, for this burning to happen.  Easy with an arrangement in a large jet or truck, but not exactly practical for a handheld model.

An actual “light fight”, to steal the term from science fiction, to the author’s knowledge, has yet to happen with fatalities.  (Heart attacks playing laser tag notwithstanding.)  The author is no gunfighter, and skill with a pistol may be one of the closest ideas to use of a handheld laser gun.  The basic idea, assuming a laser of sufficient strength to burn through a clothed human in 0.1 or less seconds, would be the same.  The dangerous area involved with the weapon would be a straight line out from the tip of the barrel when the trigger is pulled.  Unlike a gun, however, the laser would not involve a projectile, and would be dangerous as long as the trigger was held down.  No appreciable recoil either.  Imagine a rapier of indeterminate length that cannot be parried or blocked, has a blade that weighs practically nothing, and is sharp in every direction at once.   That’s basically what you have to defend against, or be offensive with.  Like with guns, the golden rule is “Don’t be in front of them”.  Outside of arm’s reach, you can be dead as quick as the opponent can draw a bead and pull the trigger.  Given the nature of the laser though, they can decide to “swish” the beam THROUGH you if they don’t target you right on the initial activation.  Inside arms reach techniques for defending against a handgun also work, as far as using your hands and body to get the tip of the barrel pointed away from you.  (In fact this may be easier, as you don’t have to worry about blinding from muzzle flash, deafening, powder burns or laceration from moving parts if it goes off right next to your head.)  At range though, find cover and keep moving.  Make sure it’s something that takes awhile to burn through too.  Mirrored shields would only be a temporary solution (No reflector being perfect, it would only be a temporary solution at best.) 

If you both have laser weapons, use yours first.  (This is the simple way out of any fight, armed or not.)  If you can’t then keep your head down, keep covered, and try to flank or lure the other guy out.  Trading fire is leaving things up to chance, and getting pinned down limit options fast, especially if they can burn up your cover.  If you both end up at arm’s length with laser pistols, then something’s really wrong.  Refer to Kurt Wimmer movies, and pray you have time after to wonder how you got into such a stupid fix. 

Charles Darwin: Great Biologist, or GREATEST Biologist?

This was originally written for the Darwin Day celebration on the 12th. Subsequently I was urged to put it on the blog, and so I have.

Today is the 200th aniversary of Charles Darwin’s birthday, and this year is the 150th aniversary of the first edition of On the Origin of Species.

For many people, its easy to write Darwin off as a nobody who just happened to stumble on to the greatest revolution the biological sciences have ever seen, to write him as a clergyman who couldn’t do anything, a wannabe doctor that couldn’t stand the sight of blood right so he took a voyage on a ship named after a breed of dog and stared at some finches for a while, thus having a eureka moment.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Darwin was not just some guy who by chance founded evolutionary biology, he was a biological genius. He was the Issac Newton of the biological sciences. Darwin knew everything that had been written about biology back then. He was an equal to the best of the best in geology, botany and ornithology. He was a world expert on coral reefs, bees, beetles, carnivorous plants, pigeons, earthworms, orchids, and especially, ESPECIALLY, he was the world expert on barnacles. He was also a prolific writer, having many publications and over 20000 non published papers. Darwin also had an excellent memory and the sort of mind that found the perfect question to ask. This, all this, from a non academic who dropped out of medical school from the fear of blood, a failed clergyman, and a person who suffered from sickness (possibly chaggas disease) through out the the later portion of his life, allowing him to be active no more than 2-3 hours a day.

When you read On the Origin of Species carefully (first edition or WAYSA?), the genius of this person is so obvious. There is hardly a page where he does not anticipate some future aspect of biology or ecology, many of those 100 years ahead of his time. He does it so casually too, throwing short summaries of experiments he conducted which are so profound yet he gives so little time to. In a page he discovers mutualism, or anticipates the concept of a niche, or island biogeography, or population models. He was SO CLOSE to grasping the mechanism of inheritance; you can see him just out of reach throughout the text, and he died before he could discover Mendel’s work on peas and allele crossing.

So, as a biologist this is a great day for a great human, the greatest biologist, the founder of so many sciences, but I think it is also a day for all people to remember and recall our biology, our ancestry, the history of our planet and the processes of life which abound everywhere.

You see, even if he induced natural selection from four obvious observable facts (summary: inheritable variation, overproduction of offspring and selective deaths) of nature (which he figured out in part by studying Malthus more than his grandfather, Lamarck*, Lyell, or anyone else), HE FREAKIN INDUCED NATURAL SELECTION. Okay? And not only did he induce it he had the REAMS OF EVIDENCE to back it up. He spends one chapter in On the Origin actually laying out Natural Selection and spends the rest of the book lining, nay, PILING up evidence for his claim. Wallace, on the other hand, wrote a 6 page document; what did he think he was going to achieve with so little evidence?  He had to convince the western world to turn away from 2000 years of belief in platonic forms. He made a leap of logic that is so antithetical to Aristotelian philosophy. He was the greatest mind in biology ever, and also the humblest, because unlike Carol von Linne, he didn’t want glory. He was a seeker. If we could have brought him here today and showed him the world he brought about through his amazing mind

he would back away in humility, and say “The evidence spoke for me.”

For knowing so much, understanding so much, for asking the right questions and finding the right answers, even if he leaped off of the shoulders of giants, THAT is why he deserves every ounce of credit he gets.

*For goddsakes people, quit putting down Lamarck already. He was a brilliant man, so similar to Darwin in many ways. There was so much he wrote that feels it could have come from Darwin’s own writings, and yet we are left with this cartoonish image of him because the only thing anyone ever remembers or writes about is the giraffe neck stretching.

Some Lamarck quotes:

“time and favorable conditions are the two principal means which nature has employed in giving existence to all her productions. We know that for her time has no limit, and that consequentily she always has it at her disposal.”

“Do we not therefore perceive that by the action of the laws of organization…nature has in favorable times, places and climates multiplied her first germs of animality, given place to developments of their organizations,…and increased and diversified their organs? Then…aided by much time and by a slow but constand diversity of ciercumstances, she has gradually brought about in this respect the state of things which we now observe. How grand is this consideration, and especially how remote is it from all that is generally thought on this subject!”

Humans are still nasty little monkeys.


So, it looks like ABC found a way to re-do the Milgram Experiment minus the shaky ethics. 


Has the human race evolved a compassion gland after 40 years?  Perhaps the leaps in technology have taught humans that “just following orders” is a shitty excuse?  Maybe, just maybe, people will reject a sadistic “authority” and think for themselves?


Of course not.  Just like last time, about 70% of the test subjects would willingly electrocute another human because they were told to.


However, some other interesting things were learned:


·                                 The experimenters’ physical presence has a marked impact on his authority. As cited earlier, obedience dropped off sharply when orders were given by telephone. The experimenter could often induce a disobedient subject to go on by returning to the laboratory.

·                                 Conflicting authority severely paralyzes action. When two experimenters of equal status, both seated at the command desk, gave incompatible orders, no shocks were delivered past the point of their disagreement.

·                                 The rebellious action of others severely undermines authority. In one variation, three teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and shocks. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, thirty-six of forty subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well.

“Perhaps only when rebels outnumber authority figures can disobedience readily spread.”


That last line sounds important. 

Hey kids! Try this at home!

This might be old news for some of you mind hackers, but there are ways of proving that your brain and body filter out external “reality” and add their own interpretations.  And you don’t even need fancy drugs, or a laboratory.  Next time you’re trying to argue the Black Iron Prison position, suggest a few of these experiments:


Ok, so they aren’t earth shattering.  But at the very least, they demonstrate that we are constantly creating our own personal universe inside our heads.  It’s good to know that it’s at least possible to consciously manage some of our perceived pain.  And it should be pointed out that the Purkinje Lights effect is not only the basis for Gysin’s Dream Machine (, but it’s been suggested that Nostradamus used the same techniques to create his visions.

Fungi, our SAVIOR!

Here I was, thinking about symbiosis, and along comes this video by Paul Stamets through TED talks (tip of the hat to Cainad). If you haven’t heard of TED talks before, I pity you.

Anyway, the video is about fungi. Most people wouldn’t care about fungi (aside from the type on your table; yes, those ARE fungi sexparts), but I have a soft spot for Animalia’s closest relative, and this man is truly empassioned.

The truth is, fungi are some of the coolest and weirdest organisms around. What we think of as being a mushroom is only the fruiting body . Maybe you’ve pulled up mulch or rotting wood before and seen a white fuzz, or pulled out an old loaf of bread and found a similar fuzz. This is a mycelium, the vegetative body of a fungus, composed of a closed network of hyphae (hair like cells) in a thin sheet. The network indeed is like a body, as the pockets in between cells become holding tanks for water, food and associated bacteria.

Fungi, like humans, are omnivourous. They decompose material outside their cells. In fact, fungi do most of the decomposing on this planet. Not insects, or worms, but mushrooms, are most important to the regeneration of nutrients in the soil. Fungi also form micorhyzal associations with many species of plants, including most flowering plants. A single mycelium can be long lived and long distance. In fact, the largest organism known is a 10 square kilometer mycelium of the fungus Armillaria ostoyae from Oregon, USA.

This seems like a good time to segwey into my purpose here. I’m a biologist bringing Biological Weirdness, oddities, rants and sermons on why living things continue to astound me, and sometimes pure bio-freak craziness. I’m also here to bring news of a Biocentric Future. There is so much research into genetics, ecology, systematics and behavior these days I can barely keep up. Much of what we are learning is turning into new technologies which will make our lives better.

Take this video for example. Stamets shows excellent opportunities for new ways of pest control (ants and termites terminated by fungal spores which leak into their colonies), new medicines (a rare mushroom showing high activity against flu and pox diseases), fuels from cellulose, and possibly even terraforming other planets. These organisms are amazing, bizarre, beautiful, and useful. The world is full of amazing bizarre, beautiful and useful species.

We just have to be willing to look and wonder.

The Tricorder – fiction now close to fact

Two recent developments in biological sciences and technology have lead me to believe the Tricorder of Star Trek fame is not so distant.

The first is a hand held medical scanner/communication device. Granot, Ivorra and Rubinsky published their creation through the online PLoS ONE journal on April 30th of this year. The technology uses a very similar setup to the newer cellular phones, and detects voltage differences to produce images. From the pictures you can see it is pretty much a modified cell phone, connected to an electrode setup.

The second article was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London in 2003. Hebert et al provide a complete system to taxonomic identification through the Cytochrome Oxidase I gene of mitochondrial DNA. This gene is found in all animals, and varies quite a bit between species, however, its intraspecific variation is low. The mutation rate of the gene is just right for acting as a species barcode, whereas the DNA sequence identifies the species by its closeness to a record of known gene sequences. The aim is to sequence this gene in all animal species and use it as a universal identifier. There are several worldwide barcoding initiatives going on for most of the major taxonomic groupings. I really don’t see it as that far off before we have a good record for all described vertebrate species, although it will probably take much longer for the invertebrates. The practical uses for this is immense. Already, barcoding has been used to uncover fish market fraud.

Now, wouldn’t it be cool if you could combine the two of these? You would have a cell phone that could do biological scanning, as well as sequence COI genes and compare them to the online database. You would have a combination communicator, biological scanner, and species identification device, in essence, a tricorder.

Its not that far off. – The heart of the barcoding initiative. Note the search engine of over 160 thousand barcodes. You can simply type your sequence in and it will give you the closest matches.

I am totally sure this technology will never be abused

Via Livescience:

Scientists have successfully selected and safely erased specific memories in a mouse’s brain, leaving others intact, it was announced today.

The erasure can be done while a mouse tries to retrieve an individual memory, said Joe Z. Tsien, brain scientist and co-director of the Brain & Behavior Discovery Institute at the Medical College of Georgia School of Medicine.

Fortunately, this appears to be within its early stages and hard to adapt to humans.  But believe me, people all over the world will want something like this.  Oh the things you could do…