Here There Be Dragons – the deepest manned dive yet…

Via bayourenaissanceman, the New Yorker has an article covering Victor Vescovo’s dream come true–to be an explorer going where no man had gone before: seven miles below the surface of the sea.

Let me repeat that: HE WENT SEVEN MILES UNDERWATER. As you might imagine, it wasn’t easy.

When Alan Jamieson, the expedition’s chief scientist, contacted Heather Stewart, a marine geologist with the British Geological Survey, and told her that Vescovo wanted to dive to the deepest point of each ocean, she replied that there was a problem: nobody knew where those points were.

Most maps showing the ocean floor in detail are commissioned by people looking to exploit it. The oil-and-gas and deep-sea-mining industries require extensive knowledge, and they pay for it. But, with a few exceptions, the characteristics of the deepest trenches are largely unknown. As recently as the nineteen-sixties, ocean depths were often estimated by throwing explosives over the side of a ship and measuring the time it took for the boom to echo back from the bottom.

It may appear as if the trenches are mapped—you can see them on Google Earth. But these images weren’t generated by scanning the bottom of the ocean; they come from satellites scanning the top. The surface of the ocean is not even—it is shaped by the features beneath it. Trenches create mild surface depressions, while underwater mountain ranges raise the surface. The result is a vaguely correct reading—here is a trench!—with a ludicrous margin of error. Every pixel is about five hundred metres wide, and what lies below may be thousands of feet deeper or shallower than the satellite projects, and miles away from where it appears on the map.

Vescovo would have to buy a multibeam echo sounder, an advanced sonar mapping system, to determine precise depths and dive locations. He chose the Kongsberg EM-124, which would be housed in a massive gondola underneath the ship. No other system could so precisely map hadal depths. Vescovo’s purchase was the very first—serial number 001.

It was operated by a grad student. During one of the early dives:

Jamieson discovered a new species of snailfish, a long, gelatinous creature with soft fins, by looking through a viewport. The pressure eliminates the possibility of a swim bladder; the lack of food precludes the ossification of bones. Some snailfish have antifreeze proteins, to keep them running in the cold. “Biology is just smelly engineering,” Jamieson said. “When you reverse-engineer a fish from the most extreme environments, and compare it to its shallow-water counterparts, you can see the trade-offs it has made.”

Why does man(kind) instinctively hunger to be the First of everything? The article also offers a hint about that, as there was a follow-up dive to retrieve a stuck lander:

The control room was mostly empty. “When Victor first went down, everyone was there, high-fiving and whooping and hollering,” Buckle said. “And the next day, around lunchtime, everyone went ‘Fuck this, I’ll go for lunch.’ Patrick retrieves a piece of equipment from the deepest point on earth, and it’s just me, going, ‘Yay, congratulations, Patrick.’ No one seemed to notice how big a deal it is that they had already made this normal—even though it’s not. It’s the equivalent of having a daily flight to the moon.” McCallum, in his pre-dive briefings, started listing “complacency” as a hazard.

It is a hard road, and twisted, that leads man to the stars.

Making [complete text] Great!

Forget the recent brouhaha about exploding criminal-slash-austere scholar masterminds and dog heroes. I’ve got some REAL news. Hold on to your hats, this is a really big one.

An American cheese has been selected as the world’s best–for the first time ever.

Rogue River Blue Cheese, produced by Rogue Creamery in Southern Oregon, is an organic, cave-aged blue cheese that is wrapped in pear spirit-soaked Syrah grape leaves.

The Savencia Fromage & Dairy-owned creamery beat out some tough competition: More than 3,800 cheeses from 42 countries and 6 continents were evaluated by a panel of 260 judges in Bergamo, Italy this month.

Also, the French are ticked about it.  Is this year just not getting better or what?

Noticeably absent from the Top 5 was France. France’s best-performing cheese, an Epoisses, ranked No. 8. The soft cheese from Burgundy tied with a Swiss Gruyere.

The French press isn’t taking the loss very well: Ouest-France, one of the country’s largest-circulation newspapers, called it “sacrilege.”

(File under: and I don’t even like blue cheese….)


Mighty One, We Have Lost Us Another

Chris Kraft–no: not the guy who said “Failure is not an option” in the Apollo 13 movie, that guy’s boss–has passed on, fifty years after the organization he helped build and head put Americans in space–and on the moon.


In November 1958, the NASA Space Task Group was born, and Kraft quickly accepted an invitation by Gilruth to become one of its 35 members, with responsibilities that immersed him in mission procedures and challenging operational issues, as NASA’s first Flight Director. His career immediately changed from that of a research engineer to that of an engineering and organizational manager. He personally invented the mission planning and control processes required for manned space missions, in areas as diverse as go-no-go decisions, space-ground communications, space tracking, real-time problem solving, and crew recovery. His commanding role as Flight Director was indicated by his control-room name–“Flight.” During the later phases of Project Mercury, he was a key participant in the planning for the construction of NASA’s new Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC, renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in 1973) in Houston, Texas; and moved there in 1962 along with other members of the Space Task Group. From 1961 to 1966, he served as Flight Director during such historic missions as the first U. S. human sub-orbital flight and first orbital flight during Project Mercury (with Col. John Glenn aboard), and the first spacewalk in Project Gemini.

During the Apollo program, Kraft became the Director of Flight Operations at MSC, responsible for overall manned spaceflight mission planning, training, and execution. His leadership in this critical area continued through the Apollo 12 mission in 1969, at which time he became Deputy Director of the Center. He served as the Center Director from January 1972 until his retirement in August 1982, playing a vital role in the success of the final Apollo missions, the first manned space station (Skylab), the first international space docking (Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), and the first flights of the Space Shuttle.

I’ve heard a rumor that certain fashionably-minded people have decided the early American space program is Not The Thing: that it was too white, male, and Texan to be remembered fondly.


They put fire on the moon. Their names will live on as long as civilization remembers that. And no man is dead while his name is still spoken.

Standing at the flight director’s console, viewing the Gemini-10 flight display in the Mission Control Center on July 18, 1966, are (left to right) William C. Schneider, Mission Director; Glynn Lunney, Prime Flight Director; Christopher C. Kraft Jr., MSC Director of Flight Operations; and Charles W. Mathews, Manager, Gemini Program Office. (NASA)



Booty. The Very Best Booty.

Sherlock Holmes: the Complete Novels and Stories – Arthur Conan Doyle
Orion Shall Rise – Poul Anderson
The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand (Aka, You People Need Therapy: The Novel)
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (unabridged, this time)
The Witches of Karres – James H. Schmitz
Star Born – Andre Norton
Shadow Hawk – Andre Norton
The Mote in God’s Eye – Niven & Pournelle
Tactics of Mistake – Gordon R. Dickson
Escape Velocity – Christopher Stasheff
Dune Messiah – Frank Herbert
Beyond Another Sun – Tom Godwin
Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs (I am a simple fan. I see Tarzan, I buy. I do not, however, buy more than one at a time: Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar remained in the Vintage Pulp section, along with the mouthwatering shelf of vintage ANALOG issues.)
Soldier, Ask Not – Gordon R. Dickson
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

And, for the Princess of Barsoom:
Basil and the Lost Colony – by Eve Titus
The Wind and the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
The Story of George Washington Carver
At Her Majesty’s Request –  An African Princess in Victorian Britain
It’s going to be a while before she’s ready to read them. But they’ll be waiting for her until she is.

This confirms my views of Instagram

and social media in general, really….

Instagram, by the way, is absolute loathsome trash.

Giant prehistoric cats discovered

–in museum drawer.

Insert own “because cats, you see, like drawers, hneh hneh hneh” joke here.

Simbakubwa kutokaafrika (“Big Lion From Out of Africa”) was a hyaenodont–one of the apex predators which prowled the African proto-savannahs during the Oligocene (after the dinosaurs, before the primates started getting uppity). It was larger than a polar bear.

“The most striking feature of Simbakubwa is the size of the specimen,” their study reads. “Based on its massive dentition, the animal was significantly larger than any modern African terrestrial carnivore.” Dentition refers to the development of teeth, a key element of studying ancient fossils.

Using known methods of extrapolating body mass from teeth, scientists estimate that the big cat weighed approximately 1,308 kilograms, or an astonishing 2,888 pounds.

Nice kitty!

On a related note, I spent a chunk of this morning cleaning an unholy black goo from the ear canals of a normal-sized cat with an infection. The cat was maybe ten pounds. Multiply that by a factor of 200….the mind boggles.

Hmmm….the adventures of a prehistoric veterinarian….now there’s an idea with potential….

Weekend Watchlist & Misc

I was largely without internet access over the weekend, so here’s a collection of things transfered over from my phone.

– Bleedingfool reviews Quo Vadis and articulates some of the things I hold against Game of Thrones.

– Remember that thing I posted last year about the flash frozen foal in a Siberian crater? They’re necropsying it, and found liquid blood and urine inside. Cool, right?


– The Hard Man
This is a noir film disguised as a Western. Guy Madison (also seen in the really, really terrible Bullwhip) as our too-quick-on-the-draw but straight-shooting hero; Lorne Green as the brutal and powerful villain, and Valerie (who looks vaguely like Gia Scala, but isn’t) as his femme fatale of a wife, Fern.
So, although Fern is introduced as a fairly dark femme fatale, I was still hoping she would make it out alive and end up forming a family unit with the hero and requisite cute orphaned boy. A strong case could be made for sympathy just based on the way her husband treats her….which is roughly on par with how he treats everybody else. He’s a bad, mean, sonuvabitch. She’s also someone who can almost handle him, who keeps her cool under provocation, is capable of taking matters into her own hands (at one point, she actually does pick up a gun and try to shoot her husband…if it’d had bullets in it, the movie would have been over), and still shows a modicum of warmth and decency towards the orphaned boy.
Pretty good movie, but it turns out I was rooting for the bad guy (girl) the whole time. Oops.

Mr & Mrs Smith
I forgot how good this movie is!
I also forgot how bad it is.
My lifelong ambition to be Angelina Jolie when I grow up continues unabated.
Brad Pitt’s abs are really something to behold.

Vivarium Blues, take 2

(Vivarium Blues – to the tune of A Country Boy Can Survive)

Now, PETA says we’re evil men
We keep lab rats in cold, dark dens
But there’s just us folks who work in lab
Assistants, technicians, grad students and such…

We just wanna find out what makes them tick
Get to the root of what makes us sick!
We can run our rats on little treadmills,
(And a lab rat can survive
A lab rat can survive!)

We try to stay ahead, keep the cages clean
And the feeders stocked,
The Care Committee’s expired our grant;
Our protocal’s yanked and our badges, too.

We do keep ’em caged, we do make ’em run
But we treat them just as good as any other one
Every procedure must be approved
There’s a reason behind each thing that we do!

The mice needed feeding on a Saturday night:
Doc’s outa town and the grad student’s tight
The boss is on leave and that intern ain’t bright
Got into the room, locked the keys inside…

— transition

[need a summary verse]

The cage washer’s busted and the autoclave’s broke
That’s eighty-two cages to scrub by hand…
That’s just how it goes with us folk in the lab,
If you think we’d change it you don’t understand….

(And a lab rat can survive
Lab rats can survive
Lab rats can surviiiiiiiive!

Are College Students Smarter Than Homing Pidgeons?



Various animals various senses and cues to zero in on and return to known locations from or through unknown ones, an ability known as navigation. Navigation includes the ability to possess or create some frame of reference (a “home territory”) and to orient ones’ self against this frame. This study examined the ability of humans, a species known for its higher cognition abilities and visio-spatial acuity, to orient themselves in unfamiliar territory without the aid of visible cues. Twenty-one test subjects were blindfolded at a known location, and conducted by a circuitous route to an unknown and different second location. The subjects reported what compass direction they perceived as home (written direction), and which way they believed this direction to lie (pointed direction). The true angle was 279 degrees west. Subjects’ written directions gave a mean angle of 218º and an r-value of .236. Subjects’ pointed directions gave a mean angle of 303º, with an r-value of 0.20189. A V-test returned u-values of .7576 and 1.1918. Since the subjects’ directions did not correspond with the true direction, our conclusion is that college students would make poor aerial messengers.


Twenty-one graduate and undergraduate students were selected as test subjects. The test subjects were loaded into two vans and blindfolded at a set “home” location (University parking lot). The van was driven on a circuitous route for thirty-six minutes, covering a (traveled) distance of ten miles and a linear distance of 8 miles. Departure time was 5:47 p.m.; arrival time was 6:23. Humane treatment of all test subjects was observed according to Institutional Animal Care and Use regulations (Large Primate Mammals).

At the point of arrival, subjects were asked to state by writing what direction they believed home to be in. The subjects were then taken from their vans one at a time while still blindfolded, spun around 1.5-3 times, and then asked to point in which direction they now believed home to be in. Measurements of the direction and angle were taken by the researchers, and the test subjects were released into the wild.

The data was analyzed using circular statistics methods. A mean angle was calculated using MINITAB statistics software package. Variance was calculated as r-values using the provided formula worksheet. A V-test was then run comparing the difference between the calculated mean angle and the true angle (279º).

Pointed Direction Estimates. Interior arrow shows mean pointed direction; exterior arrow shows true direction. Dots indicate data points.
Written Direction Estimates. The interior arrow shows mean estimated direction. The exterior arrow shows true direction. Dots indicate data points.