Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Hidden benefits ...

Tarantula hawk dragging a paralysed orange-kneed tarantula, Costa Rica

Wasps, you know, yellow jackets, hornets and the solitaries like the Tarantula hawk seen above, are loathed because they sting but ... there are hidden benefits to these fearsome creatures as they maintain environmental balance by keeping the population of a multitude of pests under control. 

For those who have asked what the point of wasps is, there is now a comprehensive answer. They are voracious predators of pest insects, produce powerful antibiotics in their venom, pollinate plants and even make a nutritious snack.

The benefits to humans of the much-hated insects are revealed in the first major scientific review of the ecosystem services they provide. It focused on the 33,000 known species of hunting wasps, which carry stings and live in every corner of the world.

Yellowjackets and hornets, the picnic pests that have given wasps a bad name, make up a small proportion of all wasp species. But even they provide help that is little known, such as hoovering up caterpillars on vegetable patches. Yellowjacket venom is also being investigated as a promising cancer treatment.


The study, published in the journal Biological Reviews, analysed 500 scientific reports on stinging wasps. There are 100,000 known wasp species, but 70,000 are parasitic, which are stingless and quite well studied. They are already used in farming to control pests without using insecticides. There are about 22,000 species of bees. “Wasps are the ancestor of bees, so bees are wasps that have forgotten how to hunt,” said Sumner.

Click here for the PDF of the study.

They're coming ... by the trillions :)

 They're coming ... by the trillions. :)

You just know it’s gonna be a scorcher when you hear the cicadas in the morning. They sound like 90 degrees in August; like sizzling, sticky heat bubbling over and down the tops of the Sycamore trees around you. They sound like ice cream trucks, the whistle of a whiffle ball, the clink of ice in a glass of lemonade—cicadas stealthily singing in the backdrop as if they were there all along.

This year, in a matter of days—or hours, or maybe it’s already happening—the conjoined song of the cicadas will elevate to a symphony. The Brood X cohort of cicadas, the largest of 15 known periodical cicada species—seven of which emerge every 13 or 17 years—will crawl up from their underground burrows and unleash a cacophony of noise across much of the Eastern United States. At least 15 states are expected to welcome trillions—yes, trillions—of cicadas over the course of four to six glorious weeks. Glorious because, as much as this event may sound like the plot of a fucked up Guillermo del Toro film, the phenomenon is a wondrous and sentimental marvel of nature. Never mind the fact that the cicadas you hear are males crooning to prospective partners, an altogether necessary yet romantic act of survival; the hum of the cicadas is tinged in nostalgia. To hear their song is to remember childhood—and not just for those who grew up in the pockets of woodlands scattered across the Atlantic seaboard.

Yes indeed, cicadas & childhood are forever intwined. 

Long-term time bomb

Several years ago, a senior Chinese official had an incredibly honest interview with the NYTimes regarding China's slow motion time bomb of a declining population that's really old, something now coming to pass in 2021, a potentially devastating impact on the ambitions of Xi and the well being of the country as a whole. 

To whit.

China’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, with a plunge in births and a graying work force presenting the Communist Party with one of its gravest social and economic challenges.  

Figures for a census conducted last year and released on Tuesday showed the country’s population at 1.41 billion people, about 72 million more than those counted in 2010. This was the narrowest increase recorded since the Communist Party conducted its first census, in 1953.

Only 12 million babies were born in China last year, according to Ning Jizhe, the head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the fourth year in a row that births have fallen in the country. That makes it the lowest official number of births since 1961, when a widespread famine caused by Communist Party policies killed millions of people, and only 11.8 million babies were born.

The figures show that China faces a demographic crisis that could stunt growth in the world’s second-largest economy. China faces aging-related challenges similar to that of developed countries, but its households live on much lower incomes on average than the United States and elsewhere.

In other words, the country is growing old without first having grown rich.

Yours truly never forgot just how honest the official was and ... he was spot on without question.

End result.

“China is facing a unique demographic challenge that is the most urgent and severe in the world,” said Liang Jianzhang, a research professor of applied economics at Peking University and a demography expert. “This is a long-term time bomb.”

Officials conducting a demographic census in Boma village, where relocated Tibetan people from high-altitude areas live, in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.Credit...Roman Pilipey/EPA, via Shutterstock

A long-time time bomb indeed.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Dr. Fill

Many years ago, my mother successfully negotiated the NYTimes crossword puzzles on a regular basis. Seems Dr. Fill does the same thing as seen by the clip above. Seems AI has moved in on yet again another human endeavor without hesitation.

Full On ...

Well, the military is full on in creating Skynet now that autonomous control of armed bots is in play as per a Darpa exercise when AI became the untethered entity running swarms of cheap and potentially lethal tech beyond direct control of humans, an issue BRT has talked about for quite some time.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

4 takes on AI ...

4 takes on AI shows just how powerful this tech has become in just a few years, a fact showing just how open ended this software truly is. To whit.

In the NYTimes piece titled Why Trump Still Has Millions of Americans in His Grip, the article starts with why Trump keeps his voters enthralled but quickly segues to AI and what it will mean to work in America.

Take 2. The dark side ...

In a popular game, when AI is brought into the equation, the dark side emerges ...

Take 3, Aggression 2Step ...

When resources get scarce, AI bots become all too human.

Take 4, Dreaming of Shakespeare ...

Writing is hard. One has to practice at it for a long time before it becomes instinctive, something this writer has learned about the hard way as practice doesn't make perfect, it makes better.

Any questions?

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Echoes of childhood

Playing Children, by Song dynasty Chinese artist Su Hanchen, c. 1150 AD

This wonderful  picture of childhood indirectly connects to a story by Garrison Keillor reminding us of what children have lost with the onslaught of tech and the negative impact it's had on the art of growing up. From this writer's perspective, I wouldn't trade my childhood with the one today's kids are experiencing in any way, shape or fashion.

I’m a happy man. I had a happy frugal childhood, riding my bike around the countryside back before cellphones and apps that parents could track you with on a laptop, but I avoid talking about happiness because I have young leftist friends who, if I admit to being happy, say, “Well, that’s very nice for you but not everyone is as privileged as you were.”

Privilege was not what made me happy. Dad worked for the post office, we were six kids, so though we weren’t impoverished, we could see it from there. No, it was the bike and freedom and the truck farmers who’d pay a kid to hoe corn and pick strawberries and I’d take my dough to the corner store and buy a couple Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls and take them down to the Mississippi and eat them and skip stones. It wasn’t about privilege. Why can’t a man talk about happiness without getting a poke in the eye from someone who’s just read a book about systemic inequity and wants you to know it?

The great privilege of my childhood was hoeing and weeding, which is denied to kids now whose moms go to Whole Foods to purchase raspberries from New Zealand and a bag of baby arugula hand-raised in the coastal foothills of Northern California by liberal arts graduates, instead of growing food in a garden and affording their children a useful education.

Weeding is editing and editing is a basic skill desperately needed now that the computer has led to floods, downpours, typhoons of verbiage. Everything is ten times too long. (I had a couple thousand words here about my old editor William Shawn, which I’ve taken out, as you can see.) I read a memoir now and then and I think, “This person never mowed a lawn or weeded a flower bed.” Their book has, in a manner of speaking, a lot of old rusted cars and busted appliances sitting in tall weeds that need to be thrown down in a coulee and the grass mowed.

Any questions?

Not Ironman but close :)

Not quite Ironman but close. :)

A new video uploaded by UK-based jetpack maker Gravity Industries shows a Royal Marine using a jet engine-powered suit to land on a nearby ship after approaching it on a powerboat. In one iteration of the exercise, the soldier lands on the ship and then pulls out a handgun — a preview of how military and police want to use jetpacks for rapid infiltration missions.

The marine can be seen effortlessly taking to the skies, reaching the upper deck of a nearby vessel in record time.

All that's really needed are truly powerful batteries to power the engines. 

Monday, May 03, 2021

From Ice to Flowers

The transition from ice to flowers starts slowly but picks up speed after passing the Vernal Equinox. Spring has finally sprung in CT. :)

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Time keeps on ticking ...

Entropy is everywhere thanks to the two laws of thermodynamics and the Arrow of Time as disorder always grows as time passes. Thank Sir Arthur Eddington for the  Arrow of Time bit.

To whit yet again ...

Reality bites.

Relentless ...


Relentless says it all.  

Commencement Day

Ginny's graduated. No longer a test but rather a partner to Percy as the little chopper has passed every test as a viable scout to a rover. Tech at it's best defines just how well NASA designed this system for an economical 85 million. Awesome says it all.

Details ...

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (above center to the right) is viewed by one of the hazard cameras aboard the Perseverance rover during the helicopter’s fourth flight on April 30, 2021.

Commencement Day, the day marking the start of a new chapter certainly applies to Ginny, right? :)