Sunday, October 16, 2005

Homo floresiensis, mesozoic flight, nanotubes and tiny insects!

` The Russian State Chorus was neato! I liked the hyperactive conductor, too! They also sang 'America the Beautiful', probably because they're in our country, and they were better than any Americans I've heard!
` Anyway, today I got this news report in the mail from Dory that led me to an answer to a big question I have; just how did Microraptor fly? It couldn't splay its legs out to the side, so how did it use all those flight feathers on its hind legs and feet?
` Looks like ol' Sankar Chaterjee finally figured it out! (It's about time, Mr. Chatterjee!)
` Stop licking me, you cat! Sorry. Anyway, this picture kind of says it all:

` Aha! The feathers on its feet could have created a slanted airfoil! According to MSNBC's article:

Since they couldn’t extend their hind wings directly behind the front wings, Microraptors probably held their feet lower than their arms, a more aerodynamically stable configuration, Chatterjee says. From the side, they would have looked like a staggered biplane.

After running this wing configuration through a computer simulation, the researchers determined that Microraptors got around like many small forest birds do today.

After reaching a high branch or tree top, it would hop off, diving head first until it picked up enough speed to create lift on its wings. Once it had lift, it could swoop upwards and land in the branches of another tree some 15 to 20 feet away.

Since it didn’t have to flap its wings to fly, this mode of transportation was very energetically efficient for the dino.

“It mainly glided, but probably had to flap a little during takeoff and landing, or in case of an emergency,” Chatterjee told LiveScience.

` Yep, so it looks like someone finally figured out how those four wings worked together! Why I got that piece of information from Dory first and not Nature, stumps me.
` Naturally, MSNBC is not a very good source for scientific news. For example, there's a link to an article on this page where bigfoot is taken seriously! Of course, bigfoot's been 'over with' for decades - we already know where 'sasquatch' comes from, etc.
` Also on MSNBC, there's an even weirder interactive thing called 'Did Dinosaurs Really Die Out?' This is a real laugh - read carefully:

Using cladistic taxonomy, scientists attempt to construct a "family tree" for animals. When it comes to birds, it's hard to tell where the dinosaurs end and birds begin.

The debate centers on this claim: Birds did not merely evolve from dinosaurs.

They are dinosaurs.

` Pardon me for being informed on the subject, but when Tyrannosaurus evolved from a dinosaur, it didn't stop being a dinosaur! When Archaeopteryx evolved from a dinosaur, it also stayed a dinosaur. All primitive birds were dinosaurs. Since modern birds evolved from primitive birds, they are also dinosaurs!
` A Velociraptor evolved from a primitive dinosaur that lived 140 million years before it did... and yet it was still a dinosaur! A modern eagle evolved from a dinosaur similar to Archaeopteryx about 160 million years ago! We didn't stop being mammals just because the first ones lived over 200 million years ago! One's heritage cannot wear off!
` Still, I don't know what laymen think of these things, but that's a new one to me: Anyone who understands evolution knows that we ourselves are super-intelligent endothermic, legged fish on a very basic level. For some reason, this tends to surprise some people.
` Can't imagine why.
` Then again, when you keep reading, 'the controversy'
completely changes, saying 'what if birds are actually not dinosaurs, but similar reptiles?'
` Ah, that's different. Still entirely nonsensical, but different. Very old and stuffy pseudoscience.
` I've just finished writing to Dory about another article she sent me with this Feduccia character who says that; 'Since Cretaceous feathered dinosaurs lived side-by-side with birds, how could birds have evolved from them?'

` Like... huh? Birds are not thought to have evolved from Cretaceous dinosaurs! They are thought to have evolved from the bird-like dinosaurs that lived before the Cretaceous period (along with Archaeopteryx), which would explain how so many varieties of feathered dinosaur could live side-by-side as the coelurosaur 'family' tree branched out.
` In other words, birds were but one branch of dinosaurs with feathers, and they just happened to have adapted flight capabilities to help them survive. Perhaps, that's what has served them so well since then; for some reason, they are the only dinosaur lineage alive today.

` Really, Feduccia's pseudoscientific ramblings have many eyes rolled at them in mainstream science - the only entity to widely publicize his ideas is the mass media. *Cough* MSNBC!* *A-hem!* *Discovery Channel!*
` And Butters, will you stop licking my hands?

` Er, what was I saying? Oh yes, t
here's also some exciting news about pterosaur flight, concerning how the pteroid bone on the wrists of pterosaurs would logically have to have been positioned:

"We discovered that lift is greatly increased if the pteroid bone pointed forwards in flight, not inwards as had been previously believed. This had the effect of expanding the skin-like forewing in front of the arm," Wilkinson told Discovery News.

` Yeah, I know... it's from the Discovery Channel, though this proposal has been physically demonstrated in a wind tunnel, at least. I'm no genius, but this is far from anything to get worked up over.

The high lift would have been vital in allowing the largest pterosaurs to take off and land, in a similar way that flaps work on aircraft wings.

` Flaps!? Excuse me, but flaps are on the trailing edge of a wing! In fact, these things are more or less analogous to the leading edge droop of an airplane! In fact, they're actually more like slats...
` Thank goodness for living with an aerospace engineer.

Large pterosaurs would have been able to take off simply by spreading their wings while facing a breeze. The leading edge flap would also have slowed landings, acting as an airbrake.

"It would have also served as a control surface during normal flights. For example, flexing one pteroid while extending the other would have increased lift on one wing, thereby initiating a roll," wrote the researchers.

` Once again, you can find more information on this topic elsewhere, including Matt Wilkinson's CGI animations, which don't seem to come up at all on my computer, unfortunately.
` Stop licking, pestilant cat!
What else? There's a bunch of stuff I found in Nature. Apparently, insects that are smaller than water-stiders have a way of riding a meniscus!

...insects that are just a few millimetres long deform the surface of the water with their legs, creating forces that shoot them to the top of the watery hill.

The insects are taking advantage of the same effect that causes pieces of cereal to come together in a bowl of milk, says Bush. Objects that deform a liquid and increase surface tension tend to attract each other once the deformed regions overlap, because this minimizes the overall amount of deformity, and therefore tension.

` Does that not sound insane? Ah, but it is the kind of insanity I like - the insanity of physics!

Bush and Hu studied three insect species: Mesovelia and Microvelia, which walk on water as adults, and larvae of the beetle Pyrrhalta, which perform a similar trick. They used high-speed video to capture the bugs in action, and then analysed the performance. They report the results in Nature 1.

The insects all use their legs to pull the water's surface up at the front and rear, while pressing downwards with their middle segments. Insects that live on ponds and puddles tend to have bodies that are generally water-repellent. But the insects in this study possess retractable 'wetting' claws that attract and hold the water's surface, allowing them to pull it upwards and out of shape.

The uplifted bit of water under the insect's foot then becomes an area of particularly high tension, as is the portion of the puddle's meniscus at the very edge, where it is steepest. Like bubbles on the surface of a glass of champagne, these two areas of high tension attract each other in order to lower the overall tension of the water surface. This attraction pulls the insect to the top of the hill.

"They scamper onto the menisci and are sliding down under gravity, then they lock into position and travel up it," says Bush.

Bush adds that the insect's front legs are mostly responsible for the effect. Their middle legs press down to support their weight and prevent them sinking, while the rear legs pull upwards again for balance, preventing the insect from flipping over in a backwards somersault.

` Butters, that's enough! Ah yes, insects surfing via water tension. But I get the distinct feeling that I am forgetting something...
` Oh yes, Dory's also linked me to more transcripts about the Hobbitses! Or Ebu Gogo. Well, Homo floresiensis - whatever you want to call them. From Australia's ABC radio show The World Today:

MIKE MORWOOD: So we�re not talking about a single aberrant pathological individual, we�re talking about a whole population.

MICHAEL VINCENT: This confirms your original theories?

MIKE MORWOOD: Theories? Our original description of what we found and the fact that the hominid remains we found were so different from modern humans and from homo erectus, from any other species of hominid that it warranted being given a new species designation.

` I'd like to see the look on that Jacob guy's face! Sorry - entertaining these thoughts makes me grin inanely. And insanely. It's an illness!

MICHAEL VINCENT: The species� scientific name is Homo floresiensis, but amid the initial fanfare surrounding the find, they were nicknamed hobbits.

MIKE MORWOOD: Well we have er, hmmm, we have a minimum of about 54 hobbit bones that are being studied in some detail and we�ve still got more material that has not yet been seriously looked at.

MICHAEL VINCENT: You�ve got the remains of � or parts of nine bodies �

MIKE MORWOOD: That�s correct.

MICHAEL VINCENT: You could have many more?

MIKE MORWOOD: We almost certainly have many more, yes, including an almost-complete skeleton now.

` Hooray! Also;

MIKE MORWOOD: Previously we�ve argued that Homo erectus is the most likely ancestor for the Liang Bua hominids. Now it�s more likely to have been a small-bodied hominid species and what their taxonomic status may be, we don�t know, and that makes it exciting and interesting.

And also, there are what, 17,000 islands in Indonesia and we predict that some of those islands would have also been reached by early hominid populations, and you may have developed on those islands in isolation of unique human species. There are likely to be quite a number of unique human species on some of those Indonesian islands awaiting discovery.

` Well, that wouldn't be too surprising, seeing as this has happened a lot with other animals - you have lots of close relatives living on adjascent islands.
` And, at the often-dodgy, I also gather...

Recently, the right arm bones for this individual were located at the same site, Liang Bua cave. Another jawbone, various toe and finger bones and other remains belonging to what appears to be nine individuals also were excavated.

` These can be very useful bits, actually!

"(This is) definitely a new species of human, and neither a Pygmy nor a 'diseased' modern human," said Richard Roberts, one of the study's authors. "This is the main 'take home' message of the Nature paper.
"We have too much skeletal evidence for a distinctive, small-bodied and small-brained population of humans inhabiting the cave for a period of 80,000 years. No 'diseased' type of human can remain viable over 4,000 generations!"

Roberts, a professor and senior research fellow in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia, explained to Discovery News that the hobbits lacked chins and possessed very long arms that reached almost to their knees.

When full-grown they stood only about three feet three inches tall and had brains equivalent in size to those of today's chimpanzees.

` Yup. And as was said before, they hunted dwarf-sized Stegodon sp. (types of elephants) while Komodo dragons and rats probably scavenged on their kills. Of course, they would have also gathered whatever edible plants they could find.

The tool evidence unearthed by Brown and his colleagues includes stone flaking debris, stone cores, retouched tools and anvils.

` According to all we know, H. floresiensis had small brains, but surely they could use them better than a chimp could! (The structure of the brain seems to be a little more important than the size... this is reflected by human and chimpanzee genes.)
` However, nobody is sure exactly which ancient human species that H. floresiensis is most closely related to.
` For more detailed information, which requires you to have full access to the Nature website - being at a library helps! - there is an updated Homo floresiensis Nature Web Focus.

` There's also some technology news I thought was interesting...

Nantero presented its achievement at the Emerging Technologies Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It uses rolled-up tubes of carbon to make transistors, the on-off switches that carry digital information inside computing chips: strings of the nanotubes move up and down to represent the ones and zeroes of binary code. Unlike the electrons in normal electrical transistors, these nanotubes stay in place even when a computer is turned off.

` Yes, these are not electron-based! Those nanotube bridges will stay in place even if the power is turned off!

Nantero calls its technology NRAM, which is loosely short for nanotube-based, non-volatile random access memory.

Non-volatile components, which by definition keep all data even when the power is turned off, are currently on the market in the form of flash memory cards. These hold electrons in insulated cells to act as ones and zeroes. They can be found in many portable gadgets, from MP3 players to digital camera memory cards.

And ferromagnetic RAM (FRAM) technology shows promise for making faster non-volatile components: it uses the orientation of crystal atoms to store data.

But both flash and FRAM chips wear out over time and lose the ability to store information. FRAM chips, adds Schmergel, cannot be made as small as NRAM ones.

Schmergel says that his chips could come in handy on space ships. The radiation in outer space can interfere with the electrons that store data in flash memory devices, so they have to be protected by lead. NRAM avoids this problem, providing the same computing power with much less bulk to loft into orbit.

` Yippee for nanotubes in computing technology and all that jazz... really, as you can probably tell, I don't have much time to write anything original and I must get to bed quickly before I collapse from exhaustion.
` Thank you, and good night.


Galtron said...

Now it would seem that Flores really was an Island of Munchkins!
I'm almost not afraid to ask what Hovind would say about them.

"Well, obviously they were just diseased humans."

Two days later:

"Oh, inevitably they were a strange, strange species of four-legged ape like Australopithecus! They had nothing to do with US!"

cassie d said...

i like this paragrahp in your Bigfoot post:

` Sadly however, it should be noted that in 2002, Ray Wallace died - in his obituary, Ray's son stated: "Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died." In fact, ol' Ray made an entire career out of 'Bigfoot', spinning all kinds of yarns including; "Big Foot used to be very tame...I would sit in my pickup and toss apples out of the window to him. He never did catch an apple but he sure tried."
` You think that's ridiculous? He also said that they came from flying saucers and guarded caves full of gold, but a conspiracy resulted in all of them dead, their bodies being sold to Hong Kong.

Don't forget Tenacious D's Death of a Dream episode that sums up just what it is to believe in Bigfoot.....

And let me just say, i am happy to finally know how the microraptor flew. i am amazed that we are still baffled about prehistoric animals - and when we make breakthroughs i get excited and think, "Gosh! What will they find out next!"
No seriously!
But birds are dinos?
Pretty cool that i can crush a dinosaur with my bare hand!!!!
heh heh heh!!!!

S E E Quine said...

` ^^ Hey, I'm glad you like the Bigfoot posts! Those are pretty funny, aren't they?
` I never did see that Tenaceous D thing, though. Sounds pretty sweet!

` Yes, we can crush those puny dinosaurs if we want to! Personally, I'm content with letting them glide by the window up here...
` Oh course, we've known that birds are a type of dinosaur for like... ever. It's been about a decade or so since mainstream science has been fairly certain about it.

` *Others*, on the other hand... kinda dodgy characters, those. Especially the pseudoscientists! And creationists.

` Which reminds me, Galtron... THAT'S what H. floresiensis really were!
` They... were... the Lollipop Gild, the Lollipop Gild, the Lollipop Gild...

Aaron said...

Bi-plane birds? I'll be impressed when birds develop canard wings - like the Wright Flyer.