Sunday, September 25, 2016

Whatever Happened to the Rakhigarhi DNA?

There was a lot of excitement last year when it was learned that excavations at Rakhigarhi, now a small village in Northern India, but once a major city of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) had yielded ancient bones which seemed to contain recoverable DNA. These bones had the potential not only to reveal a bit more about the people of this lost civilization, but also to clarify the ancient question of the origin of the Indo-Europeans and their languages, now spoken by about half the world's population.

Mainstream archaeology strongly favors Central Asia as the IE homeland, but significant support also exists for an origin in Iran or Asia Minor. Others, mostly Indian nationalists with little background in archaelogy, support the so called Out-of-India theory, in which the Indo Europeans were survivors of the IVC. The genetics of the IVC people should shed a lot of light on these questions.

The months have rolled on, and other results of the excavation have been reported, but no DNA results. Why not? Here are three unsupported theories:

(1)The DNA has not survived well enough to be decoded. The heat and humidity of India are bad for DNA, and technology couldn't extract anything useful. A variant says that they haven't given up yet, but neither have they yet been able to yet succeed in decoding it.

(2)First conspiracy theory. The DNA definitively refutes the Out of India Theory, but this result is so unwlcome to the Indian government, which seems to think that their official patriotic mythology is at risk, is repressing it.

(3)Second Conspiracy theory: The DNA strongly supports the Out of India origin of PIE, but mainstream archaeology is outraged and refuses to believe it.

Other options?

Russians Bombed Humanitarian Aid Convoy to Aleppo. Why?

The convoy was clearly marked and had been identified to the Russian command. So why did they bomb it?

My theory is that it was a Putin gesture of contempt. Putin believes that the West is weak and incapable of the resolve to resist. He cares nothing for the kinds of humanitarian considerations that are important to Obama and Kerry. He is testing the West, perhaps in preparation for his next military adventure - perhaps against the Baltics.

Of course if the Siberian candidate is elected, we can kiss them (and NATO) goodbye.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


The Clinton Foundation has a long list of exemplary accomplishments, while The Trump Foundation seems to be a nearly pure scam, with a long list of dubious claims and practices.

So which one do we hear about? Mostly Clinton, and almost always negatively.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Planned Breakthrough

Ever since I found out that blankets can violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics I have been devoting full time to developing blanket based perpetual motion machines. Excuse me while I put my head back under the blanket.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Was Columbus Right?

Columbus insisted until his death that he had reached India. Not so, of course, but according to the cladogram in the latest Nature, the closest neighbors to the South Asian Indians seem to be Aleuts and American Indians.

UPDATE: I should point out that my little joke is somewhat misleading. Asian Indians are parallel to the Saami, who in turn are parallel to a group that contains the American Indian group and the East Asian/Oceania group. These last are actually the closest relatives to the Amerindian/Aleut group.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Our Own Hugo Chavez?

ALBERTO BARRERA TYSZKA, writing in the NYT, points out some parallels:

MEXICO CITY — Long before becoming president, when he was a soldier, Hugo Chávez organized cultural activities, most notably beauty pageants. On a stage, microphone in hand, Mr. Chávez served as host, pumping up the audience and announcing the winner. The showman in him already struggled to emerge from under the uniform. Mr. Chávez said he imitated the proceedings he had seen on television in these improvised contests. This is how he learned to play to an audience.

When he tried to seize power through a coup d’état years later, in 1992, the resulting media frenzy sent him another sign. His military failure turned into a political victory: When Mr. Chávez appeared on TV to call for his colleagues to give up, he won over the audience. One minute on the screen was more effective than tanks, machine guns and bullets.

That was the start of his political career. He didn’t rise to power through social struggles. He became president without ever holding public office or a representative position that would have required him to negotiate or compromise. From his first election as president, in 1998, to his last one, in 2012 — shortly before his death at age 58 in March 2013 — Mr. Chávez became an expert in using television as a form of government.

Now Donald J. Trump is proposing the same thing to the United States.

Beyond their ideological differences, Mr. Trump, a populist right-winger, and Mr. Chávez, a leftist strongman, share the same telegenic vocation. They both built a career via television spectacle. Every Sunday, Mr. Chávez appeared on a program called “Aló Presidente,” in which he would sing, talk about current events or appoint and dismiss ministers — reminiscent of Mr. Trump’s television catchphrase “You’re fired!” There was no time limit for “Aló Presidente.” The longest episode lasted eight hours and seven minutes

College Entrance Exam

You say you would like your infant to be considered for the Harvard class of 2036? Please send a a blank check and cheek swab to our admissions office.

Steve Hsu claims significant correlation between identified Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) and adult education and life outcome. No doubt this technology will improve before the Harvard admissions officers make their final cut in 2031.

Another New Mexico Hurricane

Which is to say, a rare cloudy day, this one due to Pacific Hurricane Paine, now churning off Baja California. Haven't seen any rain yet, but our rare heavy rain events out here in the desert are often associated with hurricane remnants that cross the border into New Mexico or Arizona.

GOES West H2O Vapor Video.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


I just received my first DSLR, so naturally Slate runs this story:

Apple’s Aim Is on the Camera Market

Tech pundits think the iPhone 7 Plus could kill off high-end DSLRs. Are they right?

By Jordan G. Teicher

Despite momentary panic, I very much doubt it. Cell phones have small lenses, and are thin, so the sensor is very small. Unless the rules of optics change, I think the cell phone camera will remain limited, though point and shoots are a bit more endangered.

Comments from those who know more?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Another One Percent

Last week's Nature News Alert had an article misleadingly entitled: How to raise a genius: lessons from a 45-year study of super-smart children. The capsule sentence was just as far off:

A long-running investigation of exceptional children reveals what it takes to produce the scientists who will lead the twenty-first century.

The study in question, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) had nearly nothing to do with either of these things. Instead it identified gifted youngsters based on giving them the Math SAT at age 13 (the SAT is usually taken by university bound high school juniors and seniors). Those who scored in the top 1% were included in the study, and followed for the past 45 years. Some of the names will be familiar:

At the start, both the study and the centre were open to young adolescents who scored in the top 1% on university entrance exams. Pioneering mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng were one-percenters, as were Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and musician Stefani Germanotta ...

If that last name doesn't jump out at you, you are probably not a pop culture geek, but you may be more familiar with her performing name: Lady Gaga.

The results of the study show that these students go on to be much more likely than the general students to get doctorates, STEM doctorates, and publish scientific papers.

The tests given to these kids are not true IQ tests because they focus on math ability and spatial reasoning. Getting high math scores at age 13 means that they can usually solve many types of math problems that they have never seen in their class work.

The study speaks approvingly of accelerating students by having them skip grades. I declined to let my kids be skipped, partly because I had read Murray Gell-Mann's comments on his experiences with being skipped far beyond his age cohort, but mostly because they thought it was a horrible idea. One thing that I thought worked better was letting them take high school classes while in middle school and university classes in high school, while remaining for most classes with their age cohorts.

The comments in Nature online were nearly uniformly disapproving of the story, but substantive critiques were hard to find. Of course the Nature readership is also likely to be a very scientifically literate group.

The study is now taking a closer look at the elite of the elite, the top 0.01 %, or roughly four standard deviations above the mean.

Vsauce for the Math Fan

Banach-Tarski - a non technical explanation.

It's like Hilbert's Grand Hotel.

The Hotel is a sixty second video, but Banach-Tarski takes a bit longer.

Friday, September 16, 2016