The Rutles’ influence on culture

How many times have you seen newspaper articles titles after Beatles songs?  “Wall Street’s Long and Winding Road,” “Octopus’ Garden,” or “”Back Off Boogaloo” Says Reagan to Brezhnev” (OK, I made up that last one.)  Check out today’s issue of The Economist.  The cover story is “All You Need is Cash,” an obvious Rutles reference.  That’s one more reason to love The Economist.

Would you let your daughter mate with one?

My last few posts have been on the fluffy side.  Here is something with a bit more science to it.  The current issue of National Geographic contains a great article that compiles a bunch of the recent thinking about the Neandertals.

A fair piece of the article is devoted to whether or not we ever interbred with Neandertals.  They got to Europe 200,000 years before we did and they were still around when we finally made it.  What happened when we met?  Could we have interbred?

Genetic evidence suggests that our last common ancestor with the Neandertals lived 400,000 years ago.  A few fossils have been found that some researchers think are from human-Neandertal hybrids. 

The article also discusses theories about why the Neandertals disappeared 15,000 years after we reached Europe.  Did we kill them, eat them (!), or simply outcompete them?  The article comes to no conclusion but covers a lot of interesting ground.  As always, National Geographic is worth checking out.

I’ll give National Geographic four Lemmys.

Update to Monty Python post

Whether or not you are a scientist, it’s important to allow new information to change your mind.  Yesterday I realized that I needed to revise my post about Monty Python’s Galaxy Song.  This is the song from The Meaning Of Life in which Eric Idle sings a bunch of astronomical facts. 

Someone was trying to explain the change of seasons to a bunch of little kids, including Little Rock, who is 3 1/2.  She wanted to explain that the northern hemisphere is a little farther away from the sun in winter.  She only had about four minutes to do it so she quickly told the kids that the earth rotates, it revolves around the sun, and the entire solar system moves around the galaxy.  She also gave the speed at which all these things happened.  I can’t imagine that many of these kids had a clue what she was talking about. 

Little Rock must have realized she was making it all up.  He told her that he shot down the moon.  Apparently he put a stick in some poison berries and put the thing there and the thing there and then he shot down the moon.

Anyway, the way she was rattling off those facts reminded me of The Galaxy Song.  I remembered the lyrics and realized that I misunderstood the first line.

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving

In my initial post about the song, I interpreted “evolving” narrowly and assumed Idle was thinking of natural selection.  Life evolves, but planets don’t evolve.  Yesterday I remembered that geologists use the word differently.  When they say the earth evolves, they just mean that it changes over time.  It wasn’t always the way it is now.  Mountains and oceans form and disappear.  Continents merge and separate.   It takes a long time, but the world is always changing.  That’s what Monty Python was singing about.  I updated my views (and my blog post.)

I’ll give myself four Lemmys for learning something new.

How feedback works

Here is a good article from The Plummet Onions that explains how feedback is used in music.

We all know about feedback: it’s the ear-splitting high-pitched screech that sometimes happens when someone’s using a microphone. Usually it’s not wanted by the speaker or performer, although since the Beatles and Jimi many have used it as an effect. But what is it, really?

It’s worth a read.

2 Moon myth debunked by religious person

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of talking to people about science in ways they can understand.  This writer’s focus is on Islam, not science, but he or she perfectly debunks a myth that has been going around the internet for five years: the myth that “this” August 27th, Mars will appear as large as the moon in the sky. 

In addition to explaining why it couldn’t possibly be true, the blog addresses a misunderstanding people may have of the Quran.  The post ends with a reminder that

It is a sin to spread news and rumors without verifying it first!

See what I mean?  Talk to the peeps in a way that works for them.

I will bypass the Lemmy rating system because I’m not sure this blogger would appreciate the association with a heavy metal musician.  Let’s just call it a great post and leave it at that.

Happy Birthday, NASA – I got you a gnarly worm

I enjoy the smattering of science articles in the back of The Economist. Last week’s issue has an article about the future of NASA as it celebrates its 50th birthday.  What really caught my eye was the gnarly photo of a ragworm on the next page. Unfortunately, that worm isn’t in the online version of the article.

The gnarliest pic I could find online.

The gnarliest photo of ragworm teeth I could find online. (The Economist's photo is cooler.)

Please be patient with a brief digression. Let’s call it a drum solo. A recent post referred to a Skeptical Inquirer that wasn’t available at all on line. I guess some folks think we should still buy magazines. Let’s call them treeware-huggers. Thanks, Ron.

Ragworms are used as bait in commercial fishing. They are also known as sandworms in the US and might remind one of the giant sandworms in Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi series Dune.

Why would NASA care? The researchers, Drs. Chris Broomell and Herbert Waite, discovered that ragworms’ jaws are very strong and very light. This is because their jaws contain a lot of zinc, instead of the calcium salts that most other animals use to make their bones, shells, and teeth. Drs. Bromell and Watie realized their fiindings might help NASA discover ways to make lighter spacecraft parts, so they passed along the info to NASA. Happy 50th, NASA.

Four Lemmys. It would have been five if the Economist had posted the awesome scary ragworm photo on their website.

Can we trust Monty Python’s science?

Monty Python did a nice job of melding music and science near the end of The Meaning Of Life

The other day, I told you to be like Rock Dad and check things out.  You can’t check everything out, so one handy trick is to consider the source.  We shouldn’t have been surprised that Airborne turned out to be bogus.  It was created by a school teacher, after all.  We trust school teachers, but we shouldn’t expect them to invent medicines.

I like Monty Python a lot.  A weakness of mine is to assume that people I like are also intelligent.  Motorhead’s lyrics are ironic, whereas Kiss’ songs are kind of dumb.  Even if I think Monty Python’s Eric Idle is smart, is it safe to assume that he bothered to get his facts straight when he wrote “The Galaxy Song?”  Good question. Let’s take a look.

Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving

[They don’t mean evolving in the Scopes’ Monkey trial sense. They mean evolving as in changing.  Mountains are pushed up and later eroded. Continents move around.  Oceans open and close.  That sort of thing.]

And revolving at 900 miles an hour

[Actually 1056 miles an hour – 1700 kr/hr * 0.62 mi/km]

That’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned

[Yes. 30 km/sec * 0.62 km/mi = 18.6]

A sun that is the source of all our power

[Not quite. Radioactive decay of elements inside the earth sends some heat to the surface.]

The sun and you and me, and all the stars that we can see
Are moving at a million miles a day
In an outer spiral arm at 40,000 miles an hour

[Pretty much.  1.2 million miles a day or 49,000 miles an hour.  The solar system’s orbital speed is 220 km/sec.  (220 km/sec * 0.62 km/mi * 360 sec/hr = 49,104 mi/hr.  49,104 mi/hr * 24 hr/day = 1,178,496 mi/day.)  We are in an outer spiral arm.]

Of the galaxy we call the Milky Way


Our galaxy itself contains 100 billion stars

It’s 100,000 light years side-to-side

[Yes, if you are only referring to the stellar disc.]

It bulges in the middle, 16,000 light years thick

[12,000 light years, but they thought it was 6,000 when this song was written.]

But out by us it’s just 3,000 light years wide

[Probably 2,000 – 2,500]

We’re 30,000 light years from galactic central point

[This was believed when the song was written, but now we think it is 26,000 ± 1400.]

We go round every 200 million years

And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions

In this amazing and expanding universe.

[It is exapnding.  Whether it amazes of not is a matter of opinion.]

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whiz


As fast as it can, go at the speed of light, you know

[No. Rate of expansion depends on how far apart two objects are.]

Twelve million miles a minute

[Eleven miles a minute.  (186,000 mi/sec * 60 sec/min)]

And that’s the fastest speed there is.


So remember when you’re feeling very small and insecure
How amazingly unlikely is your birth
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space
Because there’s bugger all down here on Earth.

[Wrong: Dolphins.]

Not bad. Not bad at all. 4 Lemmys.

Keep on keeping on,
Rock Dad