The human journey to the Americas

After watching the last show from the series Human Journey, “The Americas”, I learned about the discovery of the human bones known as “The Arlington Man” which were described as the oldest found in the Americas. These bones are calculated to be 13,000 years old. The remains were found in the Channel Islands National Park, in the Santa Rosa Island, which is approximately 10 kilometres off the coast of California. (There is a beautiful slide show about Santa Rosa Island National Park to get a view of this archeological site).

The Human Journey program identified the Arlington Man, as belonging to the Chumash people. Since it was the first time I heard of this group of Native Americans, I searched for information about them and found out that one of the bands of this ethnic group still survives and has a page on the web, presenting their history and some of their culture. In particular, the “History of the Chumash People” page is a good resource for learning about them.

All this reminded me immediately about the recent claims of finding very old human bones in Mexico, probably the earliest yet found in the American continents. So, the question to me was which are the oldest, so far.

In my previous post “Oldest human bones in the Americas found while diving near Tulum, Mexico” (in this same blog below), I commented on the news about another development in the search for the first inhabitants to the Americas, as the skeleton of a boy found underwater near Tulum seemed to be among the oldest human bones ever found. Digging for more information, I came across another article that talked about “Eva de Naharon” (Eve of Naharon) and other skeletons in the same area.

The article written by Eliza Barclay for the National Geographic News on Sep. 3, 2008, titled “Oldest Skeleton in Americas Found in Underwater Cave?” describes the finding of human bones that belonged to a woman living there approximately 13,600 years ago. Those bones, like the ones from the boy of Chan Hol, were also found in a cenote in an area that so far has contained the oldest human remains at least in Mexico.

Photograph courtesy of Arturo González
It seems like the answer to the question about when the first humans arrived to the Americas point to the Yucatan peninsula, around 13,600 years ago. There may be more recent discoveries yet that could change this view. In the meantime, it seems safe to say that Eva de Naharon is the first human found in the Americas.


It will take 12 more years before Jupiter gets this close to Earth on Sep. 20

NASA website recently published the page "Closest Encounter with Jupiter until 2022", which tells us that on the night of September 20 - 21 Jupiter will shine much brighter than usual as it will be 75 million kilometers closer than in past encounters.

So, if you are lucky enough to have a clear sky on the night of September 20, it would be a great opportunity to observe Jupiter, if possible with a telescope so that you can directly observe features like the two red spots "kissing" or notice the stripe that disappeared in May (details in the post: "Jupiter Loses a Stripe and NASA is Mystified") which is still "missing".

Portion of Alan Friedman's complete photo of Jupiter & Io,
taken on Aug. 30, 2010

I would also like to recommend the website that Mr. Friedman has, called avertedimagination.com. He has taken beautiful pictures of the planets and the solar system, using a 10" telescope from his home in Buffalo, N.Y. Some of these photos have been published in NASA pages, which is how I found about him and his site.

Given that tonight has been clear, I hope tomorrow our luck continues so that we can have a chance to see Jupiter even through all the city lights. Clear skies for everyone on this close encounter with Jupiter!


Another Flash Detected on Jupiter - Aug. 20, 2010

In an earlier note on this blog (see "Huge Flash of Light on Jupiter") I mentioned an event in Jupiter that occurred on June 3, where an Australian amateur astronomer, Anthony Wesley, detected a flash on the planet, which lasted roughly two and a half seconds (this was corroborated by other observations).

And now, only a month and a half later, a similar event has been reported. This one occurred on August 20, when there was another brief flash of light seen in Jupiter. This time it was a Japanese amateur astronomer, Masayuki Tachikawa, who detected the flash, which lasted only 1.5 seconds. The photo taken by another Japanese amateur astronomer, Aoki Kazuo, from this incident, confirming the initial observation, follows:

Image recorded by Aoki Kazuo of Tokyo, Japan on Aug. 20, 2010

A very short video of the event (lasting only a second and a half, where you can easily see the flash) can be accessed here (this is the same video that appears on the NASA site mentioned below).

You can access a full report about these impacts on Jupiter on the page: "Fireballs Light Up Jupiter", published by NASA. At the end of that page you will find links to other articles related to the same subject, one of which is the report about an earlier and more spectacular impact that occurred on July 19, 2009.

The collision that was detected last year was caused by an object much larger than the two objects that crashed into Jupiter this summer, because unlike them, in 2009 the impact did leave a mark on the planet which was detected at least several days later by other telescopes. NASA has the page: "What Hit Jupiter?" where you can access very detailed information about it. (It is important to note that on that occasion the Australian Anthony Wesley was again the first person who observed the effects of impact, but not the event itself, which went unnoticed in the world).

The best image of the aftermath left by the impact of 2009 was taken by the Hubble telescope. Although the Hubble was working on something else, it was decided that the event was too important not to be observed in depth by it. As expected, the reliable Hubble did not disappoint with its results, as can be seen below.

Hubble Space Telescope image of impact aftermath in Jupiter - July 23, 2009

An interesting point to me is that these three past observations have all been done thanks to the dedication and perseverance of amateur astronomers who follow Jupiter from their own backyards. Had it not been for them, the scientific community would have in all probability missed the opportunity to see them and study them. The good news is that the scientific community is now paying more attention to what is happening in the vicinity of our Earth (so to speak) rather than focusing on the most distant stars and galaxies, as has been the case in recent years. Of course, it's a phenomenal that scientists can study galaxies so far away from our own Milky Way that my mind can not really even begin to imagine those distances, but I think we must not forget our “next door” neighbour, Jupiter, which ultimately is likely to have more relevance to what is happening or may happen here on Earth.

The significance of knowing about the events in Jupiter is that the gathered data can help determine the number of meteoroids that are in our solar system. It is important to know this data so that there is a better idea of the frequency and size of collisions that occur not only in Jupiter but here. For example, before these events were observed, it was estimated that asteroids (of approximately 10 meters long) would crash here on average once every 10 years. Now astronomers need to recalculate these estimates, since it is known that Jupiter has collisions with objects of around the same size a few times each month (the objects that hit Jupiter these last two months were both about 10 meters).

Finally, it is interesting to kow that these impacts confirm the important and protective role that Jupiter has on Earth, as astronomers have previously reported. These collisions are a very clear and visual example of Jupiter's protective role for Earth, since some of the asteroids that might end in a direct course towards us, end up crashing there. To me, it is a fascinating coincidence that classical Greek mythology considered Zeus, i.e., Jupiter, as the king of the gods, because in the long run, we now know Jupiter does protect our world at a cosmic level.


Oldest human bones in the Americas found while diving near Tulum, Mexico

The Toronto Star article "Ancient human skeleton removed from Mexican cave" published on Aug. 25 tells us about an interesting development in the studies of the movement of people across the Bering Strait to the Americas.

It was reported that an ancient skeleton was discovered four years ago by a pair of German cave divers, named Thursten, who were exploring cenotes (flooded sandstone sinkholes) in the eastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula (in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo). The bones belonged to a boy, dubbed the Young Hol Chan (named after the cenote where the finding happened). They were kept underwater in the cave, where the scientists spent three years studying them before bringing them up to the surface, until they were sure it was safe to do so. The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History is now conducting further study on them.

Archeologists dive inside the cave near Tulum, Mexico

What is known now is that the ancient remains are more than 10,000 years old and that it is among the oldest human bones ever found in the Americas.

More photos related to this news can be found in the Photo Gallery provided by the Toronto Star. And for a more detailed and thorough report on this finding, I recommend reading the page "Mexican Archaeologists Extract 10,000 Year-Old Skeleton from Flooded Cave in Quintana Roo" published by the ArtDaily.org site (which, by the way, and on a completely different note, is quite a beautiful site on all things art).

Development of bio-synthetic corneas by Canadian scientist Dr. Griffith

A very positive achievement was announced on the journal Science Translational Medicine on Aug. 25 regarding the creation of bio-synthetic corneas. These corneas were developed by Dr. May Griffith, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (O.H.R.I.) in collaboration with Dr. Per Fagerholm, an eye surgeon at Linköping University in Sweden. 

Dr. May Griffith with new synthetic cornea

The article published in the journal reports that 10 patients had their eyes operated on by the surgeon in Sweden to transplant the synthetic corneas (in one of their two eyes) two years ago. The patients' eyes have shown no signs of rejection and most importantly, the sight in 6 of these 10 patients has been helped significantly, with one of them actually achieving 20/20 vision.

More details on this great development can be found in the news release provided by the OHRI page: "Seeing the world with new eyes: Biosynthetic corneas restore vision in humans".

It should be noted that less than 3 years ago, the OHRI announced that Dr. Griffith would start the study of artificial corneas which has produced these incredible results. In addition to this achievement by Dr. Griffith, she was hailed as one of Canada's Top 40 under 40 (in 2007), she holds at least 3 patents (possibly 10 by now), has authored more than 50 articles and has published six refereed book chapters.

To finalize this brief note and to top it all off, what is most remarkable about Dr. Griffith is that, as it is mentioned in the OHRI news release: "her accomplishments came during a period when she ... underwent treatment for cancer and adopted a baby.". In my view, she is someone who truly deserves all our appreciation and respect. Here's wishing her every success in a long and illustrious career.


Huge Flash of Light in Jupiter

Another interesting and mysterious event has happened in Jupiter! (On June 3 to be precise). There was a flash of light so bright that it was detected even though it occurred during the Jovian day and even though it was initially seen through an amateur’s telescope, i.e., not from space, or from an observatory.

It has really surprised me that another significant event has occurred in that planet less than a month from the disappearance of one of its stripes. (See my previous post “Jupiter Loses a Stripe and NASA is Mystified”). Another interesting fact is that this event was observed first by Anthony Wesley, an amateur from Broken Hill, Australia (although I’m not so sure that should be the qualifier for someone so dedicated to Jupiter and with so many discoveries as he has). Thanks to him, the scientific community has seen and verified his observation. For me, the most surprising fact is that the scientists cannot explain completely what is behind these events. This should be such an inspiration to current or aspiring astronomers, as there is still so much to discover and learn about our own solar system!

Going back to the fireball or flash, the most likely cause for this phenomenon is supposed to be an impact by a comet or asteroid. The strange thing about it, however, is that it did not leave behind any traces of the debris that would be expected from such an impact. For example, when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 0 crashed against Jupiter in July, 1994, it left very visible marks afterwards for all to see. As Dr. Glenn Orton from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said: "We've seen things hit Jupiter before, and the flash of impact has always been followed by some kind of debris.". So the question is: where is the debris from the impact, if indeed it was an impact? For the complete description of this event, just go to the NASA page titled: “Jupiter Impact: Mystery of the Missing Debris”. Since a picture is worth many words, the following images show the actual event:

Composite images prepared by Anthony Wesley
June 3, 2010 - Broken Hill, Australia

Last, but not least, another lesson for Earth is that the predictions previously made re: the rarity of these impacts have to be seriously revised. It was thought that the chance of seeing an impact on Jupiter would be once every century (this was thought as recently as 1994). However, the verified observations made by just one person, Anthony Wesley, in the last 12 months show that this has happened twice already. As the head of NASA’s Near-Earth Object program of JPL, Dr. Don Yeomans, said: “It's time to revise our impact models [particularly for small impactors]”.

(The “Impact on Jupiter, June 3 2010” web page is the source to Mr. Wesley’s images, as well as two videos of the event – one of 9 seconds and the other one lasting 24 secs.).


About "The Enemy Within"

Thanks to my dear friend, Dr. Mancillas, I found out about the article "The Enemy Within", which has a torrent of information from which I will try to splash a few bits of data below. The article was written by Mark Bowden and published by The Atlantic magazine this month.

If you like to read spy &/or suspense &/or high-tech &/or detective &/or hacker stories, I think you will enjoy this material. It consists of 4 web pages, so there is a good amount of information therein. Do not assume (as I did) that the article ends with the phrase "The worm is winning". The plot continues in the rest of the pages. Do not skip them.

I also want to add a few more points that I gathered after reading the comments made by some readers of the article. The page from the Conficker Working Group gives a simple, super easy to use visual tool to check if your PC has been infected by the Conficker worm. (Even if your system is protected by an anti-virus it could have been infected).

In the unfortunate case that you find your machine infected, you could follow the advice given by Symantec in their page W32.Downadup Removal Tool, which describes the process used to disinfect your PC (not for the faint of heart). Another good and useful source of information about this worm can be found in the page e Conficker Worm Patch. (Disclaimer: I`m not advocating the use of Symantec products. But thanks to the details given by Dan Schrader, there are a couple of resources where you can start the search for help).

With any luck, this will all be old news to you and none of it applies to your system, but just in case, it seems to me better to let this bit of information replicate through the web than to let it pass by silently.


Jupiter Loses a Stripe and NASA is Mystified

The headline from an article published today by NASA is surprising enough: "Big Mystery: Jupiter Loses a Stripe". So after going to the source to verify it, I can say that it appears legitimate. The news item in question talks about the unexplained disappearance of one of Jupiter's two main cloud belts. My first surprise after reading about this event is that this pheomenon is not yet fully understood by NASA. After all these years that Jupiter has been studied and observed by astronomers, I thought they could explain this type of events more easily. As Shakespeare said through Hamlet: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

But, instead of trying to describe this event in words, it will be much better to show the evidence:

Photos taken by Australian astrophotographer Anthony Wesley

One of the first things that came to my mind when I read this article and saw the photo above was one of the last scenes of the movie "2010: The Year We Make Contact" (in particular the one where Jupiter starts to change and the astronauts are desperately trying to escape its orbit before it is too late). Since I saw that movie (and "2001: A Space Odyseey"), any news about Jupiter sounds interesting to me. Especially if there are any visible changes through our great distance apart!

This event also reminded me of another news item I follwed way back in July 1994, when the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 had a collision with Jupiter, which was recorded in a series of spectacular photos taken by the Hubble telescope. That was the first time that an extraterrestrial collision of objects in our solar system was observed and recorded directly. The next picture shows the mark left by that impact on the mighty planet (the mark seen near the top, a bit left of the centre of the image)

Hubble Space Telescope Jupiter Imaging Team

And the following image shows the series of impact sites on Jupiter when they occured as seen through an infrared image taken by the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain on July 25, 1994. (NASA has a very good compilation of Images from Comet (SL-9) Collision with Jupiter, the one below is only one of those).

In total, there have been two major "significant" events, observable from Earth, in Jupiter, in the last 16 years. Who knows what else, and how much more is happening in our solar system that we do not know?


"Discovering" Jimmy Page's music

Recently I was shopping in the only type of store I cannot resist: second-hand music & media shop. As I was going through the hundreds and hundreds of used CD's, I found two Jimmy Page albums that I had not seen before. And since Page is my favourite guitar player (in my opinion the best of all lead guitars in rock) buying those CD's was a no-brainer, so I left the store with the two albums plus two others from Bryan Ferry, but that is a story for another time.

I was really surprised when I listened the first album Coverdale - Page (from 1993). It was like finding some new recordings from Led Zeppelin that had been left behind in some attic or old chest after they disbanded. Whoever likes "heavy" rock or Led Zeppelin will very likely enjoy this album as well. After doing some research on David Coverdale, it turns out that he was the lead singer of Deep Purple (in their last years) and the founder and lead singer of Whitesnake. All the songs in this album were written by both of them. It really is such a pity that this record did not get more recognition and acceptance. It is great!

The second album I bought was completely different. It has a very strong influence from the blues, which I also like a lot as well, but no traces of any of the "typical" rock sounds from Page. As a matter of fact, at first I thought the disc was a mistake; it had to be from another CD that was mixed up with this one. Specially since the CD cover was this:

This image was so incongruous with the music. When Page was playing his famous double-neck guitar, his music was very different and it has nothing to do with the music in the album per se. But the music in the album I bought is very good and almost pure blues, which is the basis for so much of rock'n roll. However, it is not rock, let alone heavy rock.

Given these inconsistencies, I proceeded to find out more about the album and now, thanks to Wikipedia, I know that what I bought was the disc number 2 of a two-disc compilation titled "Hip Young Guitar Slinger (jimmy page and his heavy friends)". This album is made of studio recordings made before Page was part of Led Zeppelin as the songs were recorded between 1962 and '66. The compilation itself was produced in 2000. So I now know that Jimmy Page was working as a studio musician and producer of blues records before he became lead guitar of one of the best rock'n roll bands.

One good thing for me about this finding, among others, was to confirm that my sense of music and time are still working fine. Somebody or some record company decided to sell the two records separately and used one of the famous Page photos to sell the album. The image below is the one that appeared in the original album sleeve:

This is totally congruous with the music inside, and not only that, but one can learn that he was recording and playing with very good company from the beginning. This album (disc 2) has 3 songs of John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Other 7 songs are with Eric Clapton and two more with Jeff Beck. Another thing that surprised me was to discover that Jeff Beck, as well as Jimmy Page, started playing the blues. It is well known that Clapton was "formed" by the blues, but now, it is clear that the influence of the blues is much more extensive than I had imagined. In the songs on this disc it is evident how much rock owes to this genre. I really recommend this album, especially if you happen to like the blues.

Wikipedia tells us that two of the songs with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers ("I'm Your Witchdoctor" & "Telephone Blues") were produced by Page and that Clapton is the person actually playing the lead guitar. Now, I do not know for sure the role that Page had in other songs of this album (whether he was the producer or one of the guitars). Unfortunately the CD has no further details other than the song names. Would someone know in which songs Page played and/or which ones he produced?

In any case, this disc 2 of the "hip young guitar slinger" is a fascinating example of the musical beginnings of these "heavy friends" of J. Page and a very interesting example of the British blues from the first part of the '60s.


Celebrating Lady Ada Lovelace Day!

Through my travels in the Net today, I found out that March 24 is the day for celebrating and blogging about my heroine Lady Ada Lovelace!

It was quite a surprise for me to find out after more than 30 years in the Information Technology (IT) field that there was a day dedicated to honouring her memory by writing something about her and other notable women in technology. So, here I am rushing to write something before the end of the day. I cannot let the occasion pass me by.

For some people in IT, she is well known, as she is the reason the US Department of Defense named a programming language Ada. She is also well known for people interested in programming in general, as she is generally considered the first programmer ever, even though she died before digital computers, as we know them, were invented. However, she did write was is considered the first computer programme as she wrote an algorithm for the analytical engine that Charles Babbage invented.

Since today is a day to celebrate other women in technology, I consider it a "must" to remember and celebrate anoter woman who made a great contribution to the IT field: Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. She is another of my heroines as she is recognized as the author of a programming language that was the bread and butter of computer systems during the 1970's and 1980's. (As a matter of fact, there are still a good number of "legacy" systems written in it). I'm talking, of course, of COBOL, one of the first languages I learned in University, which is still in operations and is one of the oldest programming languages still used worldwide. Grace Hopper created the specification for COBOL in 1959 and it really was the workhorse language for most of the companies and governments that were developing application systems. Another interesting trivia fact about her is that she is the person who first used the term "bug" and "debugging" in programming. The funny part is that it was actually an insect she found that was causing problems with the system and the rest is history...

[As an aside, it made me very happy to learn today as well that the US Navy has named a destroyer in her honour, the USS Hopper (DDG-70). This is only the second US Navy warship to be named for a woman. The USS Hopper was launched on Jan. 6, 1996, by her sister.]

So, how come women have been so prominent in the field of programming languages? My guess is that the natural tendency that women have to excel at languages must have helped. And of course, it doesn't hurt that many women, and certainly women such as Lady Ada and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper must have had beautiful, logical minds.


PBS Experimenting with Facebook screening

I read that PBS will be screening the "Earth Days" documentary in Facebook, ahead of their broadcast on TV. This will happen on Apr. 11 (from 8 to 9:45 pm).

The idea seems to have good potential for more interaction with the audience as people will be able to ask questions and chat in real time with the producers. It sounds intriguing to me, although, I'd prefer to watch it on TV. In any case, it shows that PBS is trying to connect to younger audiences which is really good.

The documentary will be about the beginnings of the environmental movement. Can it be that this year is actually the 40th anniversary of Earth Day? (Apr. 22). I guess we have improved in some areas, but there is still so much left to do...

More information about the event is available in the Earth Days social screening in Facebook.


USA Political TV (C-Span) History on the Web

I never imagined that I would start this blog referring indirectly to some political news. But this was so important to my point of view that it just needed to be captured here.

I just read a fascinating article from the New York Times, "C-Span Puts Full Archives on the Web", written by Brian Stelter and published yesterday.

The 3 channels that comprise C-Span have put on the web all their video recordings starting from 1987! That is such great news, especially for American citizens, but also for people from other countries, like me, because it can start to compel other governments to follow suit (one can only hope). It makes me envious of their democratic system. And I really admire the fact that the USA shows this openness for their government proceedings. Well done for them! And indirectly for the rest of us as well, as the access is open to the Internet.

The article talks about some Romanian bloggers who discovered and published an address given by their president to the United Nations in 1990. I wonder if there is anyhing from either one of our Canadian prime ministers or Mexican presidents. Time to dig in or should I say, time to dive into this ocean of data.

To see what all the fuzz is about, just follow the link to the C-Span video library: