Saturday, June 22, 2013
Just the Facts?: Buzz Aldrin Calls For Humans to Colonize Mars -- Loch Ness Tourism Battle -- Ghost in Toilet?
Buzz Aldrin calls for humans to colonize Mars
On 21 July 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the surface of the Moon, it appeared as though mankind was on the verge of a new age of space exploration. After all, if the moon could be conquered, what could prevent us travelling to other planets, even to other solar systems?
Nearly half a century later, the dreams that once seemed so tangible now look more remote than ever. The last man to walk on the Moon was Eugene Cernan, who made the long trip home in December 1972. Since then, humans have been content to orbit the earth, in the realms occupied by satellites and the International Space Station. But we have never again broken free.
Now, one of the original lunar pioneers believes the time has come to make another great leap for mankind. Buzz Aldrin thinks that manned missions to Mars should take place sooner rather than later - within the next quarter of a century. And we shouldn't stop there. He thinks we should begin planning a permanent colony on the Red Planet.
I caught up with him on a visit to the Paris Air Show, where he has been publicising his new book, "Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration". A relatively sprightly 83-year-old, he has a reputation for tetchiness - and he certainly dealt rather brusquely with onlookers' requests for autographs. But when I asked him about Mars, he became engaging and animated, showing a boyish enthusiasm for the subject.
So why does he think we should be sending astronauts to the red planet?
"Why did the the pilgrims on the Mayflower set out to open up the New World?" he asks.
"Because it's in human nature to explore, to find a location to begin a settlement. And it is in reach."
The simple answer then, appears to be "because it's there". But there is also a more pragmatic reason. He believes that efforts to explore the surface of Mars to date have taken far too long, because the current generation of Mars rovers have to be controlled remotely from Earth - and it takes about 20 minutes for radio signals to be passed each way.
"One programme manager, who was in charge of doing that with two robots for five years has said we could have accomplished just as much in a single week, if we had had human intelligence controlling them from nearby - from an orbit around Mars itself", he says.
But a mission to Mars would have to overcome huge technological challenges, and would certainly be phenomenally expensive. So who would pay for it all?
"The nation that decides that it is worth doing," he says, "and I believe that is the United States. The United States will commit to doing that."
Yet, at the moment governments around the world are attempting to cut back their spending, and Washington is no exception. In the current climate, it seems almost inconceivable that a government could commit untold billions to fund interplanetary exploration.
On the other hand, private firms are showing an interest - companies such as Mars One, a not-for-profit Dutch foundation, which says it plans to establish a colony on Mars by 2023. It wants to use technology developed by the American firm Space X, a business fronted by the maverick entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Mr Aldrin points to these firms as evidence that there is enthusiasm for exploring Mars - yet he still believes that governments will have to lead the way.
"Private enterprise usually enters into activities seeking a return on investment," he says.
"That's why we didn't go to the moon in the '60s and '70s just relying on private investment. It was a national investment is science, in development and to assist in the commercialisation of space."
In other words, the commercial benefits may be there - but the rewards are too uncertain to attract enough private backing.
Mr Aldrin's vision involves astronauts being trained on the Moon for a life on Mars, and ultimately for new colonists to be brought to the new settlement on a routine basis. He thinks this could be done using "interplanetary cyclers", spacecraft that are permanently moving between Mars and Earth.
But such a plan needs willing volunteers, who must be prepared to travel across space with little prospect of ever returning home. A return journey may in fact become physically impossible after much time spent in the weaker gravity of Mars.
Yet he thinks there will be no shortage of volunteers, and the response to the Mars One initiative suggests he is right. Since announcing its plans in April, it has received tens of thousands of applications from would-be Martian explorers.
"I think that the people who go there will be remembered in history as pioneers," he says, "and the world leader who makes a commitment to establishing a permanent presence on another planet will also be remembered in history as a pioneer."
In fact, as befits one of the very few men ever to have set foot on another world, "pioneer" seems to be Buzz Aldrin's favourite word. It's a term that has rather fallen out of fashion on our well-mapped planet.
But he believes the time has come time to broaden our horizons - and rediscover once again the spirit of exploration. - BBC
Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration
Look to the Stars
Loch Ness Monster sparks Highlands tourism battle
A monster war of words has erupted over how the world-famous Nessie is promoted. The Loch Ness Monster is one of the Highlands’ biggest assets, but the way the legendary monster is portrayed to tourists is threatening to split the business community on the shores she reputedly roams.
There has been resignations from Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce following comments made by one member, George Edwards, of Loch Ness Cruises.
In a letter sent to 70-plus members of the chamber, he criticises those who, he claims, dispel Nessie as a “myth”.
In particular, he said the narrative of staff given to tourists at the Loch Ness Centre in the village, which overlooks the famous stretch of water, for being negative about the monster.
He also accuses veteran researcher Adrian Shine of taking too much of a scientific approach to the legend, which he claims turns tourists off.
Mr Shine, meanwhile, accuses Mr Edwards, who he said operates his business from a rival business in the village called Nessieland, as being a “liar and a fraud”.
The row has led to resignations from the Chamber of Commerce, including Debbie MacGregor of the Loch Ness Centre, and Tony Harmsworth, its former chairman, who has quit as editor of the chamber’s website.
Mr Edwards said: “Just about every time that Mr Shine appears in the media he talks about big fish and big waves.
“I believe they are doing more harm than good in promoting Loch Ness tourism with their negative theories.
“How many people come here to see the Loch Ness Big Fish or the Loch Ness Big Wave?
“In recent years we have seen a decline in tourism across Scotland and maybe it is time for Mr Shine to put up or shut up.
“Mr Shine and his cronies have been making a nice living out of Loch Ness for the past 20-odd years and if they cannot see the logic in promoting Nessie then maybe it’s time they moved on, as they seem intent on destroying our industry.
“I am sure members would see the financial rewards if we were to buy them one way tickets back to where they came from and let Nessie breathe easy again.”
Mr Shine hit back, claiming his business was booming while Mr Edwards’ was failing, and this was the result of his outburst.
He added: “Interestingly, it emerges that Mr Edwards does not believe in the Loch Ness Monster, [stating] ‘Most of the people I talk to on my boat know that it’s just a bit of fun.’ and speaks of ‘my little stories about Nessie.’
“He clearly doesn’t think that many other people believe in it either. The irony is that the serious investigations and presentations such as that at The Loch Ness Centre, afford a great deal more respect to over a thousand honest and sober eyewitnesses by explaining what they have truthfully reported in terms of some rather special features of Loch Ness. “
The chamber’s former chairman, Mr Harmsworth, said he resigned as editor of the chamber’s website after being ordered by the committee to remove an article he wrote criticising Mr Edwards.
He said: “Today’s tourists are more discerning.
“They want to understand the culture, legend and natural history of the places they visits.”
He accused Mr Edwards of using fake pictures to discredit “the whole legend in the process”.
Debbie McGregor, manager of the Loch Ness Centre, has resigned from the chamber, saying the committee should have been consulted before Mr Edwards’ letter was sent out to members.
She added: “I don’t work with committees like that.
“An argument like this is not good for the community, but it could have been avoided if the committee had been advised before the letter was sent out.”
Chamber of Commerce chairman Robert Cockburn defended its position, claiming the website was there to promote the businesses of Drumnadrochit.
He added: “It is not there for Mr Harmsworth to criticise another member of the business community, so we asked him, quite rightlyu to take it down.”
Mr Shine, meanwhile, added: ““The Drumnadrochit Chamber of Commerce has done a disservice to the reputation of this subject by being at such pains to facilitate Mr Edwards’ form of promotion by rendering his letter more literate and distributing to the entire membership, demanding the retraction of Tony Harmsworth’s editorial and characterising the objective presentation at The Loch Ness Centre as ‘negativity’.” - Scotsman
The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence
The Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries
The Encyclopedia of the Loch Ness Monster
Mysterious Voynich manuscript has 'genuine message
The message inside "the world's most mysterious medieval manuscript" has eluded cryptographers, mathematicians and linguists for over a century.
And for many, the so-called Voynich book is assumed to be a hoax.
But a new study, published in the journal Plos One, suggests the manuscript may, after all, hold a genuine message.
Scientists say they found linguistic patterns they believe to be meaningful words within the text.
Whether or not it really does have any meaningful information, though, is much debated by amateurs and professionals alike.
It was even investigated by a team of prominent code breakers during WWII who successfully cracked complex encrypted enemy messages, but they failed to find meaning in the text.
The book has been dated to the early 1400s, but it largely disappeared from public record until 1912 when an antique book dealer called Wilfrid Voynich bought it amongst a number of second-hand publications in Italy. Continue reading at BBC
NOTE: I earlier posted a detailed post on this manuscript - The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript...Lon
The Voynich Manuscript: The Mysterious Code That Has Defied Interpretation for Centuries
The Voynich Manuscript Illustrated: "One of the most mysterious books in the World"
Voynich Manuscript: The Code Unchopped: Read what no one else has Read
Is A Ghost Living In A Factory Toilet?
Thousands of workers at a garment factory in Bangladesh stopped working and rioted earlier this week, demanding that a ghost be removed from their building. The problem began when a female worker said she felt sick and attributed her condition to "an attack by a ghost" inside a toilet in the women's washroom.
According to news reports, more than 3,000 frightened workers at a plant in the city of Gazipur protested, with dozens of them vandalizing the factory before police used tear gas to quell the riot. This bizarre situation is understandable when we consider the psychological, historical and cultural context of the events.
A history of hysterias
This is not the first time that workers in Southeast Asian garment factories have fallen ill with apparently mysterious and unexplainable health problems. Between June and September 2011, more than 1,000 workers in shoe and clothing factories in Cambodia reported feeling fatigued, dizzy and nauseated. After rest and medical attention, they recovered and went back to work; few, if any, reported lingering symptoms. No toxins or environmental contaminants were found that could have caused the symptoms. The 8 Most Bizarre Medical Conditions
Similar events have occurred in Bangladesh in recent weeks, with hundreds of workers in the capital of Dhaka and other factory towns complaining of feeling ill with minor symptoms and no apparent cause. Medical authorities concluded that most of these cases were due to mass hysteria, also known as mass sociogenic illness. Mass hysteria often begins when individuals under stress convert that stress into physical ills. Co-workers, family and friends may also begin exhibiting the symptoms through contagion. Outbreaks are most common in closed social units (such as schools, hospitals and workplaces) and where afflicted individuals are under pressure and routine stress. Fear and concern about factory working conditions is especially prominent in the Bangladeshi public's mind because of the April collapse of a garment factory building that killed more than 1,000 workers.
Ghosts and mass hysterias
And what about the ghost in the toilet that sparked the riots? This case is unusual in that typically mass hysterias do not involve ghosts. However, both ghosts and hysterias often begin with unusual or (apparently) unexplained phenomena. It is only a small step from being concerned about a mysterious, undetectable health menace (perhaps a hidden gas leak or other potentially threatening toxic substance) to being concerned about a mysterious, unseen presence. The belief in ghosts is widespread among the largely Muslim Bangladeshi population, and it is not uncommon for accidents and illnesses to be blamed on evil spirits.
It's important to note that few, if any, of the thousands of factory workers claimed they personally encountered the ghost or had anything to do with it.And apparently, the woman herself didn't claim to actually see the ghost; instead, she said she felt sick and assumed that a ghost was responsible. Whereas American ghosts aren't typically thought of as spending a lot of time in the bathroom, in the Middle East and Asia, the idea of a ghost or spirit haunting a toilet is not uncommon. For example, genies and other spirits are said to dwell in many places, including toilets and sewers, and Japanese folklore tells of Hanako-san, a spirit that resides in women's bathrooms.
There is no real treatment for mass hysteria (other than attention from doctors or other authorities); the episodes tend to run their course and fade away almost as quickly as they started. Factories full of textiles, chemicals, smells, stress and boredom are ideal environments for the development of mass hysteria.
There is one significant difference between most cases of mass hysteria and this case: The Gazipurfactory workers (taking their cues from the sick woman) decided that they "know" what is to blame, and that explanation (no matter how fantastic) has a culturally clear and well-defined remedy: ritual exorcism.
With that in mind, the factory owners held special prayers at the site to remove the ghost. The factory was also shut down for several days to give everyone a chance to calm down; when the building reopens, it will likely be ghost-free until the next time someone experiences something strange. - Oregon Herald