Archive for March, 2015

Will You Be Able to Read this Article in 1,000 Years? – Facts So Romantic

March 30, 2015

If you ask Anthony Weiner, digital records—especially those on the Internet—can seem impossibly hard to get rid of. When a picture or document is reduced to a series of 1s and 0s, it becomes transmissible, reproducible, downloadable, and storable. You can’t burn digital books, and ideas like cloud computing make it possible to back up data in multiple places, ensuring even an accidental fire won’t incinerate your thesis or wedding photos.

The digitization of data gives it protection from physical catastrophes, but, as it stands now, it’s far from eternal. The problem isn’t so much that the data itself might be lost, but that there will be no way to read it.

Try opening a WordPerfect document in Windows Vista, 7, or 8, for example, and you’ll quickly find that Microsoft has stopped supporting the software. Likewise, Apple hasn’t supported ClarisWorks since 2004, ditching its old office suite after 13 years, and the PlayStation 4, which came out in late 2015, can’t read the original Crash Bandicoot CD-ROM from 1996 (which is really depressing in all honesty because it was a great game). And heaven forbid you need to recover data from a floppy disk.…

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The 315-Year-Old Science Experiment – Issue 22: Slow

March 26, 2015

The most arrogant astronomer in Switzerland in the mid-20th century was a solar physicist named Max Waldmeier. Colleagues were so relieved when he retired in 1980 that they nearly retired the initiative he led as director of the Zurich Observatory. Waldmeier was in charge of a practice that dated back to Galileo and remains one of the longest continuous scientific practice in history: counting sunspots.

The Zurich Observatory was the world capital for tallying sunspots: cool dark areas on the sun’s surface where the circulation of internal heat is dampened by magnetic fields. Since the 19th century, astronomers had correlated sunspots with solar outbursts that could disrupt life on Earth. Today scientists know the spots mark areas in the sun that generate colossal electromagnetic fields that can interfere with everything from the Global Positioning System to electricity grids to the chemical makeup of our atmosphere.

What alienated Waldmeier’s potential Swiss successors was his hostility toward methods other than his own. In the space age, he insisted on counting sunspots by eye, using a Fraunhofer refracting telescope, named after its 18th-century inventor, installed by the first Zurich Observatory director, Rudolf Wolf, in 1849. (With Waldmeier’s legacy uncertain, his assistant walked off…

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Why Do People Have Such Strong Feelings for the Portland Airport’s Carpet? – Facts So Romantic

March 25, 2015

A typical view of the Portland airport’s old carpet on social mediaMichael Morgan via Flickr

“Take a pic of your feet on the carpet,” texted my sister. I had just landed in Portland, Oregon, to visit my siblings, and was walking to the airport exit. Autocorrect must have made a mistake, I thought. Yet I was a little curious. I glanced at the turquoise-blue low pile beneath my feet: dated and tawdry. Basically forgettable. But then she texted an explanation of sorts: “[There’s a] cult following for our carpet that’s being torn up.” 

She wasn’t exaggerating. In the wake of an announcement that the 27-year-old carpet would be replaced starting January 23, 2015, people began to express a surprising connection to this humble, beat-up floor covering. There are carpet-inspired t-shirts, shoes and socks. Some enthusiasts are preordering tiles of it to install in their homes. Selfies with carpet are posted regularly using the hashtag #pdxcarpet (“PDX” being the three-letter code for Portland’s airport), and it has a Facebook page. Some people even had the broadloom’s abstract shapes—symbolizing a control tower and runways—tattooed on their bodies.

This is the #PDXCarpet to end all.…

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How to Make Art That Withstands the Test of Time – Facts So Romantic

March 24, 2015

A degraded frame from an silent celluloid (aka nitrate) film, the same material used by Naum Gabo in some of his sculptures

In the 1930s, Russian-born sculptor Naum Gabo started experimenting with a thin, plastic material called celluloid. Previously used as film for photography or to make cheap jewelry, celluloid in Gabo’s hands became translucent geometric structures that were often suspended in mid-air. Art critic Herbert Read wrote that Gabo was using “new materials…[for] a new generation to create with them the monuments of a new civilization.” His pieces made their way into the top art collections in the world.

But by 1960, the plastic had begun to warp and crack. Gabo didn’t know it when he started using celluloid, but it is an extremely unstable and reactive material, and was infamous for catching fire in movie theaters. Despite conservators’ diligence to try to preserve his works, the plastic became too brittle and the sculptures collapsed. Gabo himself called many of them irreparable.

Gabo’s is a cautionary tale in art conservation circles; contemporary artists are more interested in experimentation, getting the right effect with a new or offbeat material,…

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Change of Date Allows Magnificent Venue for ASTAA 2015

March 20, 2015

The historic Gettysburg Hotel (circa 1797) will be the location of the Fall ASTAA Conference. By moving the dates to October 6-8, ASTAA was able to secure this spectacular hotel with the charm of the past and the amenities of … Continue reading

Why Egg Freezing Is an Impossible Choice – Issue 22: Slow

March 19, 2015

Last fall, I went to an egg freezing cocktail hour. The downstairs bar of the glossy SoHo hotel was thronged with women in heels and sleek business attire. Club music thumped, cameras flashed, and I narrowly missed being hit by a videographer angling a tripod over the crowd. The evening was hosted by Eggbanxx, a startup that sells financing for egg freezing, framed as fertility insurance for the forward-thinking urban professional woman.

At the bar, where they were serving up free “Banxxtini” cocktails, I spoke with a 27-year-old who was “95 percent sure” she would freeze her eggs and a 36-year-old data scientist who claimed to be “skeptical.” Together, we filed into a screening room adjoining the bar, where three New York-area endocrinologists lectured us on a new technique that, they claimed, could freeze our reproductive chances in time. Female fertility declines sharply at 37, due to a decline in the quantity and quality of eggs. But when women use fresh eggs from a young donor in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle—a process in which fresh eggs are harvested from the donor, fertilized, and transferred to the uterus—live birth rates rise across ages to 56 percent.1 Now, thanks to…

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How Slow Responses Made the Ebola Outbreak So Deadly – Facts So Romantic

March 18, 2015

As a rule, huge organizations move sluggishly, bogged down in democratic decision-making processes and bureaucratic policies. Ebola, on the other hand, moves fast. People become desperately sick and contagious within a few weeks of infection. By the time international agencies effectively responded to the ongoing Ebola outbreak, it had spiraled out of control in West Africa.

Although the rate of infection has now slowed in Sierra Leone and Guinea—and appears to have halted in Liberia—the Ebola virus has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people to date. Had the international response been more responsive to the shifting situation, more organized, more trusting of infectious-disease experts, and braver and bolder early on, the death toll might not have been so high, the operation so expensive. From a distance, the plodding pace of the international Ebola response is understandable given the constraints of the system. But people who witnessed the outbreak up close—although thankful for the good will—tend to be less forgiving.  

The gallery that follows is a timeline, of sorts, of the response to the disease. I reported and shot this story over the course of two month-long visits to Sierra Leone in December 2014…

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Can Remnants of Ancient Life Show Us How to Live Wisely Into the Future? – Facts So Romantic

March 17, 2015

At long-term nuclear repositories in Finland and Sweden, waste will be ensconced in cast-iron inserts (right), which are then placed in copper canisters (left).Posiva Oy

This is part 2 of Vincent Ialenti’s report on how how to think about nuclear waste in the environment over the very long term. Also see part 1, which ran on Facts So Romantic yesterday.

In the next decade, Finland and Sweden hope to take a big step toward making nuclear power sustainable, by building the world’s first-ever long-term storage repositories for spent nuclear fuel. To keep this dangerous, high-level waste from leaking over the many thousands of years during which it will remain active, the repositories will rely on four main barriers: First, used-up nuclear fuel rods are inserted into large, cast-iron inserts. Second, the iron inserts are placed in large copper canisters (see image above), which will then be welded shut. Third, the copper canisters are placed in the repository’s underground tunnels and then surrounded by bentonite clay “buffers.” This clay will absorb groundwater, which will make it expand and then, it is hoped, snugly encase the copper canisters. Fourth, the entire bundles are to be sealed in hard granite bedrock at…

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Looking Into the Far Future of Earth’s First Long-Term Nuclear-Waste Vault – Facts So Romantic

March 16, 2015

On June 1, 1676 the Battle of Öland was raging, as the Swedish navy grappled with a Danish-Dutch fleet for control of the southern rim of the Baltic Sea. Amid bad weather, Kronan—Sweden’s naval flagship in the region and one of the largest warships of its kind at the time—made a sudden left turn. Its sails began to take too much wind. The ship tipped over as water gushed into its gun ports. Kronan soon lay horizontal on the water. It was then that an explosion rung out, tearing off a large chunk of the vessel’s front side. Kronan’s gunpowder storage room had lit ablaze. The ship—along with around 800 men, loads of military equipment, and piles of valuable coins—sunk to the bottom of the sea, 85 feet down. Sweden lost the battle.

A contemporary painting of the Swedish flagship Kronan explodingPainting by Claus Moinichen via Wikipedia

From 1679 to 1686, Swedish divers using diving bells recovered over 60 valuable cannons from the wreck. After that Kronan’s precise location was forgotten, the ship left alone in its watery resting place for almost three centuries. In August 1980, however, a team located the old warship once again. Since then over…

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Time Trial: See If You Can Clock These Time-Warped GIFs – Facts So Romantic

March 13, 2015

When Eadweard Muybridge captured the movement of a galloping horse in individual frames in 1878, he managed to settle a long-running debate over how that animal runs—specifically, whether there was any moment when it had all four feet off the ground. His pioneering stop-motion photographs showed how slowing the world down provided a powerful way to study it better. 

Photography has since then advanced dramatically, with high-speed cameras able to slow down fast-moving things to a fraction of their original speeds. Meanwhile, time-lapse cameras give us a new understanding of some of the slowest processes in nature by speeding them up to scales we can appreciate. Long gone are the days when a cat lapped too quickly to see, or starfish scuttled too slowly for the eye to detect. 

So how fast does a cat’s tongue actually move? And how slowly do starfish really crawl? Take our quiz, full of sped-up and slowed-down animations, to see how well you know the world moving all around you.

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