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Archive for the ‘Science!’ Category

Everyone and their uncle will be talking pi/e today, so I’m just going to leave it at a wish for a happy day, and pie. 

It’s cold again today, with gusty winds and a bright clear sky that feels like winter will never leave. Still, Spring is near, I just picked up the first Travis McGee book again and my reader mind is in Florida with lemon and lime trees around every corner. Today I’m thinking of warmth and lemon meringue.

Will I make it? Maybe, but taxes are calling. Either way, it is a delightfully sweet, citrus-scented dream.

Whether you’re in it for the math or the sugar, here’s hoping you have a very Happy Pi Day, folks!

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Photo by an_vision on Unsplash

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Are you or someone you know currently in possession of superpowers? Are you ready to break out of the box your secret identity has put you in, and fly (or leap, or teleport) free from traditional norms and expectations? Then it is your lucky day!

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Superhero shop sign
Photo by Scott Evans on Unsplash

The Paranormal Challenge is offering a cool quarter of a million dollars US for proof of powers. Supes from all corners of the globe, or universe, are welcome! And the field remains wide open.

Only a handful of the 100 to 150 applicants to the Paranormal Challenge who contact the center each year actually make it to the testing phase…

— Hex Factor: Inside the Group Offering $250,000 for Proof of Superpowers

And that’s not the only such challenge. If you’re ready to come out of the phone booth and face your fans, Wikipedia has a list of current prizes for proof of abilities:

List of prizes for evidence of the paranormal

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Hand holding Spiderman mask.
Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

Sure, you’ll be outed on a global scale, tasked with defending the world from the forces of evil,* forced to spend your free time cleaning up other people’s messes while being second-guessed by every Tom, Dick, and Trollie on social media, but just think! You’d never have to wait in line again. And I know you’re in this for the good of humanity and all, but the name and likeness rights alone will set up your family for generations to come.

So come on out! The frontline workers, doctors, nurses, police, and other first responders could use a break.** And my mom makes great capes!

Boy wearing bat cape.
My mother made me and my brother amazing satin bat capes for Halloween one year. I know, Batman doesn’t actually have superpowers. Don’t tell 8-year old me that, though.
Photo by Joey Nicotra on Unsplash

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* I mean, you could be evil, I suppose, but that’s only cool in stories. In real life, the trail of broken lives and civilizations has to wear on you after a while. And the insurance premiums! Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

Gilded woman of wonder.
Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

** Also and P.S., if you do have actual super powers, I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering where the heck you’ve been this past year!

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If you, like me, watched the Mars landing and thought, “So cool. But something is definitely up with that parachute,” you were not wrong!

Image via the Parachute Up-Look Camera A on Feb. 23, 2021 (Sol 2). NASA/JPL-Caltech

The striking red and white pattern was too distinctive to be meaningless. 

I initially speculated that the design was meant to help engineers better understand the forces at work as the lander fell through the atmosphere, but nope. With more thought I might have made some progress, but I put the question aside and focused on other things (like the first audio recording from the Red Planet).

Cue the Internet.

There’s a hidden message in the parachute of NASA’s Mars rover – The Verge

Depending on the shape and location of the red-and-white color patterns circling around the parachute’s center, the segments represent different numbers which can be translated through binary code.

— Internet sleuths solve secret message on Perseverance rover’s Mars parachute | Space

Check out the key below, showing the code in four concentric patterns. It reads: Dare Mighty Things. That’s the Perseverance team motto and is also on the wall at the Jet Propulsion Lab. JPL gets another shout-out in the outer ring, which lists the Lab’s lat/long coordinates on Earth. (That’s going to be awfully confusing for any aliens who find it on Mars:)

Image shared by Rick von Hagn on Twitter https://twitter.com/MrIosity/status/1364436321457082370

Well done!

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Speaking of extraterrestrials, now seems like a grand time to plug my favorite new Syfy show, Resident Alien.

An alien crash lands on Earth and must pass himself off as small-town human doctor Harry Vanderspeigle. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life…but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world.

It stars the fabulous Wash, I mean Alan Tudyk, plus a cast of other terrific, talented and quirky actors, and is a thing of beauty. The premiere was frakking hilarious.

It’s on my mind because it plays on Wednesday nights, but if you missed it, full episodes are available online for the next year or so.

I’m chuckling just thinking about it.

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Because it’s Tuesday, my most stressful day of the week, here’s a “how to defeat stress” breathing video. 


This video and many others are included in James Nestor’s collection of expert material on the benefits of hacking your biological systems via invisible forces, a.k.a. air. I enjoyed his Breath book, too.

Here’s hoping you stay stress-free, my friends!

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

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I spend a lot of time online for non-writing-related work, and on the way to serious business I run across a lot of interesting things. It’s Monday, so here’s a calming fascinating visualization of The Internet and its growth from 1997 to 2021. (Actually, you know what? This isn’t calming at all. I updated the wording but now I’m worried this is going to give small children nightmares. Or maybe me. Still interesting though.)

For more on this, visit THE INTERNET — Opte

Look closely enough and you might see sledding pandas and cat videos and recipes and sales and news and art and perhaps even yours truly.

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Parts of the internet are pure entertainment and too many are just awful but others include useful lessons on How to Do Better.

You may remember my motto, A Posse Ad Esse.* I don’t always achieve this goal, but I spend a non-zero amount of time trying to Do Better. Find ways to be more productive, to end the day feeling like I crossed off, if not everything, then the most important things on my list. 

That’s been a challenge the past year or, hmm, so. That’s partly why I’m going back to writer’s guides like Swain. It’s also why when I run across articles about grit or new research on how to accomplish more, I take a minute and peruse.

Lately, I’ve found this recent research in Applied Psychology: An International Review helpful. (Ok, fine, I found this article and its summary of those results helpful. I don’t have access to that journal and honestly, reading every interesting scientific study would cut into my cat video time**;)

What did they find? That when working to accomplish something, it’s useful to ask yourself a few specific questions:

  • What’s my goal?
  • How would a person who is good at this achieve the goal?
  • How will I feel if I don’t do this?
  • What is the first (or next) thing I need to do?

It helps to take a brief break, a couple of times a day, to step back and revisit what you’re trying to do and what needs to happen next. And as “with advertising, repeated exposure was key.” So asking these questions a couple of times a day can help prompt a quick moment of self-reflection that (here’s the useful bit) actually leads to action. I have my Calendar app set to pop up these questions first thing in the morning. So far it’s been helpful.

Let’s try it:

  • What’s my goal? Write this post. 
  • How would a person who is good at this achieve the goal? Probably stop procrastinating and start writing, so that’s what I’ll do.
  • How will I feel if I don’t do this? Lame.
  • What do I need to do next? Open a file and start writing.

And look, here we are! Now I get to cross this off my list and go have lunch. Have fun getting things done today!

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“A majority of life’s errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do.”

— Charlie Munger

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* My Latin is 110% terrible so this may not be exactly right, but it gets the point across.

** I don’t actually watch cat videos much, but it’s nice to know that I could.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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I may have a Mars hangover,* so today it’s… drum roll please… Free Fiction Day! Wherein I source high-quality fiction for your perusing pleasure. It’s Friday and I am looking forward to the weekend, so today’s installment is this recent little gem from the good folks over at Daily Science Fiction: 

Onboarding Practices for the Ravaging Horde

When ravaging, it is important that you work hard to create a suitably terrifying experience for the peasant farmers of the indolent lands of Gresh. Best practices include clearly establishing client expectations in an orderly and timely manner, particularly for any projects with cyclical processes such as the burning of seasonal crops, the dismaying of children’s birthday parties, or the poisoning of wells.

— Daily Science Fiction :: Onboarding Practices for the Ravaging Horde by E. B. Brandon

Aren’t you glad you don’t work for that guy? (At least, I hope you don’t!)

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

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* Way to go, Perseverance! And yes, we watched The Martian last night. Still fun, and I had the added enjoyment of measuring the distance between where we are now and the movie world. It’s also interesting to consider the fact that (as far as I know) there’s really nothing stopping private citizens from going to Mars themselves. Aside from an ocean of money, which we’ve oh so helpfully given to space-geeks like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Will the first human on Mars plant an Amazon flag? Drive a Tesla rover? Claim (ahem) prime real estate and start building oversized warehouses, then charge the rest of us entrance fees? Disturbing thoughts!

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So, Mars. For the NASA mission, today is the day! I posted on Mars yesterday to give you time to download any apps, plan your landing watch party (socially distanced, of course!), and look up your nearest Krispy Kreme.

Are you ready? Curiosity is! Look at the little guy waving;)

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Mission home: Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover – NASA Mars

Where to watch: Watch Online: Mars Landing – NASA Mars

Fingers crossed, but no matter what happens, it’s an exciting day in space!

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Why is Mars red, anyway?

For the same reason that so many of our barns are red: iron oxide. It’s a common compound, both here and on Mars. We use it for paint and our planetary core, among other things, but Mars is a little different. First, of course, there’s no Sherwin-Williams on Mars, but also:

Whereas the bulk of Earth’s iron sank to its core when the planet was young and molten, NASA scientists think Mars’ smaller size (and weaker gravity) allowed it to remain less differentiated. It does have an iron core, but abundant iron exists in its upper layers, also.…The planet’s bloody tinge — visible even from millions of miles away — got it strapped with the name of the Roman god of war, while other civilizations also named the planet for what was once its main distinguishing feature. The Egyptians called it “Her Desher,” meaning “the red one,” while ancient Chinese astronomers went with “the fire star.”

— Why Is Mars Red? | Space

More fun Mars Facts: Mars Facts | All About Mars – NASA’s Mars Exploration Program

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I remember these books. We’ve come a long way, baby.

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This is quite a month for Mars missions. NASA’s Curiosity rover has been on the planet since 2012, toddling around mountains and craters (ahem, doing serious science, but it’s so cute!), far beyond its expected lifetime.

Now if all goes well, it will get a little company.

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Due to good planetary positioning*, three spacecraft launched from Earth last July. Amal, the spacecraft helmed by the UAE, is now in position for orbital observations. China’s Tianwen-1 is orbiting now in preparation for a summer rover landing, and NASA’s Perseverance is slated to (fingers crossed!) land tomorrow February 18th around 3:55 p.m. ET.

I’m serious about the fingers crossed but though, because Perseverance is trying something dramatic, parachuting down to the surface, firing rockets for stability, then dropping cables to the surface. Here’s a video illustrating the process, aptly dubbed “7 Minutes of Terror,” of Entry, Descent, and Landing. 


Have I mentioned there’s an eleven-and-a-half minute comms delay? That’s the scary part. Once they put the quarter in, they just have to let the whole song play out.

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Want all the fun and none of the terror? Live near a Krispy Kreme shop?** Then February 18th is your lucky day! Krispy Kreme is offering a one-day only promotion

The Mars Doughnut: A Chocolate Kreme-filled doughnut dipped in caramel icing with a red planet swirl and sprinkled with chocolate cookie crumbs. This limited-edition doughnut is available in shops and online for one day only.

Mmmmmmars.

Buy these tomorrow or, if you were one of the many, many people who submitted your name for NASA’s “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign (me! oh wait, still no doughnut shop), print out your boarding pass and get a free doughnut.

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Want to get a better feel for what it’s like to actually drive a rover on the surface of Mars? There is a free augmented reality app lets you turn your backyard, or living room, or wherever into Mars. You can walk, drive the rover, explore or do science:

This New AR App is the Coolest Way to Learn About Mars

It’s definitely time to rewatch The Martian!

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* For more on how to calculate this, see Basics of Space Flight and Let’s Go to Mars! Calculating Launch Windows, or just rewatch The Martian. You know you want to!
** Like I used to, once upon a time!

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Some days, time just seems to fly by. Those are usually days with new and interesting experiences, where every moment fires off new synapses. Other days not so much, particularly on days that call for the predictable.

If you, like me, are feeling the drag of Pandemic Mondays, you might find a little comfort in this new model of Earth’s tectonic activity over the last billion years. Because there’s time that feels like it’s crawling by, and then there’s sloooooow time.

“It’s mesmerising: like ill-fitting jigsaw pieces, bits of continents slam together and morph into supercontinents, break apart, and then crash back together in new formations – with each second of the video leaping forward 25 million years.”

Tectonic timelapse – Cosmos Magazine

See the linked scientific paper for details, caveats, additional maps etc., or just sit back and watch the world morph like Play-Doh.

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While you’re at it, have fun locating modern day sites across millions of years, and by milestones like first flowers (120 million years ago!). 

Ancient Earth (interactive; kind of like Jurassic Park, but with fewer teeth)

Flowers? Earth, that’s so thoughtful of you!

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tl;dr today I’m sharing my favorite mask pattern

Handy Guide to this Seriously Long Post

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Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

It’s been a while, but let’s just chalk that up to 2020 and move on, shall we?

Speaking of, it’s been a year, hasn’t it? We haven’t seen friends, family, or done anything more exciting than rescue feral kittens in months.*

Like so many of you, I miss my family.
I miss my friends.
I miss not knowing the latest hot news in epidemiology;)

I wanted to write about how things were going. I wanted to write something encouraging. I wanted to write, period.

But.

I just didn’t have it in me. And sometimes that just has to be ok. So I worked, managed and generally tried to keep my fashizzma together while the world did 2020.

I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been to the workshop. My sewing machine crapped out on me. I have been reading, at first to study a couple of new genres I wanted to understand from a writer’s perspective, but then I just wanted happy endings.

You know, those things that used to be a luxury but now feel like a necessity. At least to me.

But I’m slowly coming out of it. Fall is sliding into the cold sleep of winter but paradoxically, I’m waking up.

I had a story idea the other day. It wasn’t all that good, but whatever. Thank you, brain.

I’m also doing what a lot of people are doing. Buckling down, cooking, making masks, the quintessential pandemic pastimes.

And I had the urge to share. So I’m here today to share my favorite DIY mask pattern.

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Mask Talk

Despite dramatic progress on the scientific front, we don’t have as many tools in the fight against Covid-19 as we’d like (I know, stating the obvious). What we can do, right now, is socially distance, wash our hands, and wear masks. Why masks? Check out this cool NYT interactive or this handy explainer to see why masks are effective.

Short answer, breathing other people’s spooge is nasty. Masks help.

There are a lot of ways to buy masks these days, and it’s certainly possible to find a variety of options for sale. But if you, like me, enjoy being able to customize your style, size and fabric, then this pattern may be for you.

In the early days of the pandemic a lot of civic-minded makers designed and shared mask patterns. One of the best I found for me and Mr. Man (whose face has a striking set of cheekbones), was this pattern by Tom Bihn (check out the videos and notes).

I’m sure I’m not alone in the search for a mask that fits my face, is comfortable and also effective. For me and Mr. Man, the Tom Bihn design is that mask. This spring, the company was agile enough to add mask production to their line, but also generous enough to share the pattern.

I like the shape and structure of that mask, but wanted a filter. The modifications Rachel posted are helpful, but I realized that the top seam was too thick for me. It added more bulk than was comfortable and all that fabric didn’t quite shape to my face.

Was that something I could fix? It was. Would Tom Bihn be open to me sharing this new version? Yes!

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The TBv3+ (Cue Rainbows and Dramatic Music!)

I give you my modified mask pattern, the TBv3+ with a flat top seam and bottom filter pocket.**

Pattern snapshot

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Many Photos of Same

I’ve streamlined the process a bit from my first versions, so hopefully the pattern will be relatively straightforward. I’m not set up for sewing videos but here are some photos to help you get started!

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An Excessive Number of Notes:

This mask is a medium size and fits me well. It’s a bit tight for Mr. Man (those cheekbones!) so for him I add 3/8” to the bottom seam and go from there. This extra bit of fabric is enough to cover his chin and keep the mask in place while he’s talking. If that still isn’t big enough for you, consider printing the pattern at 110%, which will give you more room all around.

Fabric density does matter, so hold any potential candidate up to the light. If you can see individual fibers and holes between them, it’s not a great option. If it’s all you’ve got, bolster your protection with an extra layer of filter.

Want different fabrics inside and out? Fold the paper pattern in half along the top seam line, then add 3/8” to the top seam. Cut out two pieces from your front fabric and two from the interior fabric. Stitch together at the top seam and proceed from there. You’ll have a thicker top seam (as with the original TB pattern) but it may be worth it to you if you like a smooth inner lining (Mr. Man requested this approach; some fuzzier fabrics were interfering with his Movember).

— I flip things around a lot (I was probably 30 before I realized that my goofy childhood habit of flipping things was actually a touch of dyslexia, kudos to my parents and teachers for making it work), so one thing I have to watch out for with this pattern is where to put the elastic. It can feel backward to start sewing on the right/outside of the fabric, but that’s the way to do it. Stitch away!

On nose bridges: The first draft of this pattern added an external fabric nose bridge to the outside of the mask in the final step. It works and makes it very easy to change out the nose wire, but it does add more fabric and is a bit fiddly. By the time I finalized the pattern I’d shifted to adding one additional stitch line, centered below the top seam. If you leave a half inch or so on either side, it’s fairly easy to slip a nose wire into the resulting pocket from the inside of the mask. That’s what I do now.

with nose bridge fabric and without; guess which one is easier

On nose wires: Of all the options I tried, a thin strip of aluminum was the best. I ordered rolls of aluminum because it was so much cheaper than the pre-cut version, but if I had to do it over again I’d go with pre-cut. Freshly cut aluminum is sharp, y’all, and sanding it down is tedious. Other options I’ve tried in descending order of effectiveness: heavy-duty floral wire in foam (effective but annoying to slide in), the industrial twist-ties from Vistaprint masks (good but not quite stiff enough), doubled-over pipe cleaners (weak), thin floral wire (very weak). You may have other options.

some possible wire and elastic options

On elastic: lots of options here too, from the thick white kind harvested from an old fitted sheet to pre-cut resizable versions. I’m using the latter now because it’s faster and less annoying, but I had good luck with 6mm elastic from my local fabric store, with or without little plastic pony beads (what do ponies have to do with it, I wonder?) for sizing adjustments. (If you go with the pony beads, add an inch or so to the elastic length and tie a knot on the end to keep the bead from slipping off in the middle of Costco. Ask me how I know!)

Is that it? Probably not, but hopefully it’s enough to get you started. If you have questions, check out the linked TB videos or let me know.

Even More Notes:

* Granted, it’s been a lot of kittens. A kindle of kittens, even! Cute as heck, but consider supporting your local animal rescue organizations; Humane Society and neutering program closures have started a wave of ferals and strays, and winter. is. coming.

** The usual caveats apply: no mask is 100% effective, fabric density matters, adding a filter helps, cover both nose and mouth while wearing, wash after wearing, social distance, wash your hands a lot, etc. Fun times, am I right?

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Congratulations, you’ve worked your way through all this text! As a thank you, here’s an Inspiring Quote from someone who lived through much worse than this year and used it to create things both astonishing and beautiful.

Stay healthy, stay safe!

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Obligatorily Inspiring Quote!

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

― J.R.R. Tolkien
the sun rising over mountain peaks

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