Saturday

Oumuamua - Or Should We Call It "Rama"?

Oumuamua is the mysterious interstellar visitor to our solar system that at first blush sounds a bit like the object in the science fiction novel "Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke.

In that story, a large cylindrical object with an interstellar origin passes through our solar system. Oumuamua is also a large elongated object with an interstellar origin.

You may have to use your imagination...
So far though, our best information is that Oumuamua ("scout" or "messenger" in Hawaiian") is not 50km long and hollow like Rama: it's perhaps 400m long and apparently is a huge rock. Disappointing, but perhaps a relief at the same time.
“This is a fishing expedition,” said Avi Loeb, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and an adviser to the Breakthrough Listen project. “We are most likely not to find anything, but it is worth checking steadily our fishing hooks.
The Guardian

Wednesday

Prehistoric Predatory Penguins

Penguins are, generally speaking, very cute little aquatic birds - yes they are birds, even though seeing them waddle around (or dancing with Dick Van Dyke) makes that sometimes seem doubtful. They also can't fly in the air anymore, although they can and do whiz around gracefully and quickly underwater.

Even though there are still some large penguins, such as the Emperor, most species these days are a non-threatening foot or two tall. A badass penguin might be something as tall as a man and weighing over 200 pounds. Now that could knock the wind out of you in the water if it felt threatened.

There were such penguins in our prehistoric past, and the latest fossil discovery (named Kumimanu biceaeis an impressive example of such a giant specimen at around 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a long beak.
Kumimanu wasn’t just exceptionally big; it also ranks among the oldest penguin fossils yet found. Both its age and its size make Kumimanu important to understanding the astonishing transformation that turned a lineage of flying birds into flightless swimmers.
NYTimes


Monday

What Is "Hexadecimal" Anyway?

Computer people are weird, at least to many non-computer people. Computer people sound like they don't speak the same language, and they sometimes even count differently, for heaven's sake. Instead of just using the numbers 0 through 9, they sometimes use just 0 and 1 (called binary) and sometimes use a mixture of number and letters (called "hexadecimal" or "hex" for short).

The latter looks really odd when written down - for example the decimal number 26 is the same as the binary number "11010", or the hex number "1A". What?? Yep.


Bicycles, Guns And Healthcare

The United States has some of the best medicine in the world ... and a bloated and sometimes prohibitively expensive and inequitable healthcare system. It has become a mess, and everyone knows it whether they admit to it or not.

The Affordable Care Act was an attempt to fix some aspects of the problem. The result was unfortunately a predictable "big government" approach; fiddle with the parts that were already working, then throw tax dollars at the really broken stuff.

A recent article describes the visit of a US healthcare researcher to the European country of Denmark (population around 6 million), and glowingly reports upon their healthcare system. 
 
How is it so much better that ours? Well, you may not like the conclusions - it's our culture, stupid.