Ten cosmic accidents, ten lucky breaks for humanity

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

It’s a very chaotic universe we live in but a number of events of – literally – cosmic scale, taking place over billions of years, have ultimately resulted in our presence here on Earth.

From the ructions of the early cosmos to the growing pains of our planet and life’s daring evolutionary leaps, not everything about how we got here seems obvious, or even likely. Perhaps in other corners of the cosmos other sentient beings are also pondering the implausibility of their origins. Perhaps that very implausibility means we are alone with such questions.

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Earth’s first ambassador for extraterrestrial life to take office

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

Malaysian astrophysicist Mazlan Othman is expected to be officially appointed by the United Nations as our first point of contact with extraterrestrials in the event they arrive at – or send messages to – Earth.

During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: “The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials. “When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination.”

While it doesn’t looks like we’ll need such a person anytime soon, nonetheless it is always prudent to be prepared.

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Banksy’s lucky break, not being caught on his first escapade

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

Prolific and mysterious UK street artist and activist Banksy describes his early days starting out as a graffiti artist:

I was 16 years old when I first trespassed onto some railway tracks and wrote the initials of the graffiti crew (of which I was the only member) on a wall. Afterwards the most incredible thing happened – absolutely nothing. No dog chased me, no thunderbolt from God shut down to punish me, and my mum didn’t even notice I’d been gone. That was the night I realized you could get away with it.

Banksy’s skill, or might that be fortune, in avoiding detection on that first sortie does beg the question though, what might have happened had he have been caught?

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We could all fly or levitate if we had a little help from Photoshop

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

A guide to producing levitation photography, or photoshopped images of yourself in a state of flight, by San Francisco based visual designer Paula Chang.

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The psychology of holding life and death power over other people

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

By somehow seeing people as being less than human, political leaders are able to make difficult, but sometimes necessary decisions, such as ordering their armed forces into combat, potentially resulting in casualties and fatalities, while medical staff apply a similar precept in deciding how to treat – or otherwise – certain of their patients.

Think how terrible you’d feel if a decision you made led to the death of another person. How then does a political leader cope with the burden of making decisions which lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands? According to a new journal article, they cope through dehumanising those over whom they have power. By this account, dehumanising – seeing others as less than human – isn’t always a bad thing. It serves a function, allowing leaders and certain professionals, such as doctors, to cope with the decisions they have to make.

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How doing nothing when I was working one day saved the world

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet ballistics officer, found himself in a very tight spot while on duty on 26 September, 1983… he had to decide if a satellite report warning that five US ballistic missiles were rocketing towards Russia was correct, or instead the result of a technical glitch

“I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.” Petrov’s gut feeling was due in large part to his lack of faith in the Soviet early-warning system, which he subsequently described as “raw.” He reported it as a false alarm to his superiors, and hoped to hell he was right.

As it happens – and I don’t know whether to be reassured or not – the false alarm was occasioned by the said satellite detecting sunlight reflecting off the top of clouds, which it somehow decided were missiles.

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FTW: the origin and history of acronyms and initialisms

Thursday, 30 September, 2010

While the number of acronyms and initialisms we use and see seems to be increasing by the day, Jonathan Meades, writing for “Intelligent Life”, a magazine published quarterly by “The Economist”, has been endeavouring to trace their origins.

Take another acronym and initialism: OGS (Oh Gee Ess) and GOPWO (Gop-wo), both British coinages of the second world war. Conscripts soon learn to behave with the doubtful decorum of professional soldiers. Men forced into proximity with each other will find ribald solace in competitive, vulgar inventions which mimic strait-laced constructions such as ADC (aide de camp), GOC (general officer commanding), AWOL (absent without leave), etc. The pithiest or most brutal of these inventions will stick. Thus a GOPWO, a grossly over-promoted warrant officer: one who began as a private and went up through the non-commissioned ranks rather than graduating from Sandhurst or similar. These days, it means grossly over-priced web operator.

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The Australian Indie Art Show List – 29 September 2010

Wednesday, 29 September, 2010

I’ve recently added a few more art shows and events to The Australian Indie Art Show List. Tomorrow night, Thursday, is a busy one in Sydney, with at least three events taking place. I’ll only have time to get to one, but which show? Tossing a coin isn’t going to help here either…

If you’re an Australian artist who is holding an exhibition soon and would like it included on my Art Show List, please get in touch. To get an idea of what sort of info to send in, check out the format of the current listings.

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The view from out there, how the solar system looks to aliens

Wednesday, 29 September, 2010

Thanks to tracks created by outermost planet Neptune (if you accept that Pluto is no longer classed as a planet that is) in the dust of the Kuiper belt – a very large Asteroid belt like collection of frozen objects that reside on the edge of the solar system – astronomers on alien worlds should be able to detect the presence of the Sun’s planetary system:

“The planets may be too dim to detect directly, but aliens studying the solar system could easily determine the presence of Neptune – its gravity carves a little gap in the dust,” Goddard astrophysicist Marc Kuchner said in a press release yesterday. “We’re hoping our models will help us spot Neptune-sized worlds around other stars.”

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Taking time out, Australian workers are putting in fewer hours

Wednesday, 29 September, 2010

Australians appear to be easing back on their working hours, with time spent in the workplace declining by the equivalent of almost two full work-weeks per year, in the last ten years.

An analysis of labour force data from the Bureau of Statistics by Bankwest shows that they clock up an average of 41.4 hours a week, compared to 42.7 hours in 2000. This adds up to nearly 68 hours less work each year, equal to more than eight 9am to 5pm workdays.

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