Tuesday 31 May 2005

Another Day, Another Blood Test

The Human Pincushion, that's me. Though I'm starting to have doubts about the "human" part. But seriously folks, MRI and Ultrasound exams don't come cheap, especially when they have to be repeated because the initial results were "ambiguous" or inconclusive, something I've gotten used to all my life.

Signed up for another $800 out-of-pocket's worth (after rebates, insurance deductions etc) this week. But still, considering the technology, the degree of training required etc, quite a bargain.

At least I may find out whether a 32 year history of peculiar medical conditions is merely a long and improbable series of unrelated coincidences, or excusably misdiagnosed signs indicating a root cause even more improbable (though not that uncommon for some subcategories: about 1 in 83,000). If the results are still ambiguous, then the next step is probably "fine needle" biopsies of various glands, with "fine" being a relative term. Maybe even a reverse-flow analysis of the urinary tract, which is as undignified as it sounds.

Oh Joy.

Still, this is something like a detective story, something like a crossword puzzle, and quite fascinating in its own right. The fact that the doctor on my last visit suggested the exact set of tests I'd thought would have been most useful from my own research was enormously psychologically comforting. Hopefully we'll get to the bottom of this, no matter what. Just have to shackle all the free variables, then analyse the data. Then decide on the best therapy.

In the meantime, I must just relax, and let the hormones flooding my system do their work. So far, the only loss I have is that I can no longer multitask quite as well, listening with half an ear and carrying on a conversation while simultaneously doing a task involving logical analysis and eye-hand co-ordination. Which may indicate some re-wiring of the speech centers. I also feel the cold more, due to re-location of body fat (and talking of which, I could still stand to lose another 20 Kg).

I can't prevent what's happening, any outside interference now could be quite dangerous should it be a malignant neoplasm (most unlikely, but can't be ruled out yet).

The changes are also permanent, neither easily nor wholly reversible, and for the most part, not harmful but objectively speaking quite beneficial. Chance of some cancers may be slightly increased (though possibly not, they were always higher than I'd imagined, it's just that now we know about it), chances for many others sharply reduced, and a very greatly decreased chance of Coronary Heart Disease. The skin problems I've had for decades have all gone, and I look and feel years younger.

Psychologically speaking, it will take years and some therapy to get used to the idea of looking different, even in minor ways. Eye colour is the one thing that has suprised me, there's nothing in any of the literature that suggested this as a possibility, though hormonal eye colour changes in puberty happen quite regularly. I've also become a lot more concerned with my personal appearance, which could be hormone-induced brain re-wiring, or just psychological effects with no biological cause.

But enough of the boring narcissism.

While I've been busy navel-gazing, Tony Blair has been re-elected, the French have said NON to the EU referendum, and there's a heap of new blogs worth looking at. I'm still catching up, but for now, please go take a look at Advanced Maternal Age.

And here's a picture I got forwarded by reader Shaun : the Dragon Storm on Saturn.

Dragon Storm

The Universe is indeed a strange and wonderful place.

Sunday 29 May 2005

Someone Always Doesn't Get The Word

From Hak Mao, an article on aftershocks of WW II. :
Discovered after a chance encounter with a Philippines businesswoman who had friends in Japan, the men reportedly have documents that show they were attached to the army's 30th Division. Until yesterday they had been listed among Japan's war dead.
The men are Yoshio Yamakawa 87, and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, 85.

They made contact with the outside world through a 93-year-old former military doctor, Kyodo News reported.

"I also want to go back to Japan but we are worried about a court martial," the doctor reportedly said.

Saturday 28 May 2005

A Red Letter Day

6 Red Letters, in fact.

I have mixed feelings - my son was caught spray-painting his name in red paint on a garbage bin. At least he spelt it correctly. A N D R E W

Lots of parents have the same problem, you try to bring up your kids to do the right thing, but they end up graffiti artists anyway.

Why the mixed feelings? Andrew turns 4 in July.

Thursday 26 May 2005

Oestrogen and the Female Brain

Due to having all sorts of interesting problems with various hormones circulating in my system, probably caused by some genetic weirdness, I've been doing a bit of research.

But this one comes from Mags, a good friend of mine over in Adelaide, and it's too good not to blog, being about both Hormones and Brains.

From Science Daily :
University of Minnesota researchers have demonstrated how estrogen affects learning and memory. They found that estrogen can activate particular glutamate receptors within the hippocampus, the brain region responsible for many aspects of learning and memory. Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, allowing for fast communication between neurons. By examining hippocampal neurons from rats, researchers also observed that estrogen only activated the processes related to learning and memory in the brains of female rats and not males. While it has been well documented that estrogen influences other behaviors beyond reproduction, including learning and memory, the mechanism has remained elusive. The findings of this research are in this week's Journal of Neuroscience.

"We believe this is an important first step in understanding not just how estrogen affects learning and memory, but also a variety of non-reproductive behaviors," says Paul Mermelstein, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota and lead researcher. "Estrogen activation of glutamate receptors within other brain regions could also potentially account for the well-documented actions of this hormone on female motor control and pain sensation."

Marissa Boulware, a University of Minnesota neuroscience graduate student who performed the studies states, "Every day post-menopausal women face the dilemma of taking estrogens to improve their cognitive abilities, knowing it may pose a potential heath risk. By better understanding how estrogen acts upon our brain, one day we may develop novel therapies using non-steroidal drugs to mimic the specific actions of estrogen on processes related to learning and memory, affording the cognitive benefits of estrogen without any detrimental side effects."
Note that males miss out on the benefits. Perhaps it's just as well, the side-effects of an excess of oestrogen on a male phenotype are better imagined than described.

Of course, there'd be some technogeeks who wouldn't mind being more well-endowed than their girlfriends if it meant they'd gain in learning and memory.

Perhaps this explains why Kleinfelter males, those with 47,xxy chromosomes rather than the usual 46,xy, (between 1 in 500 and 1 in 1000 of the general population) are over-represented in the IT industry. A fruitful topic for research, anyway.

And no, it's unlikely that I'm a Kleinfelter male, even though I'm taller than my male relatives, have weird thin-walled back teeth, am relatively infertile, have large hips, had dyslexia when young, am in IT, have a rounded face, most but not all of the classic signs in fact.... or if I am Kleinfelter, that's not the only weirdness. Mere 47,xxy wouldn't explain the stuff going on in my endochrine system, especially with the bizarre Cholesterol levels. But I'll find out as soon as the Chromome Analysis results come in.

Tuesday 24 May 2005

Spot the Brain Cell

From Discover Magazine, via Mythusmage Opines :
Turns out some brain cells may be capable of pattern recognition. That these brain cells are computers of a sort in and of themselves. This complicates things for people working on artificial intelligence, replication/recording of personality and brain functioning. It may well mean that 'uploading' a person's mind, his personality, into a computer is either more difficult than we thought, or downright impossible.
I'd plump for "tricky" rather than "infeasible due to the laws of physics" here.
How individual brain cells work is not known. Here we have a problem that may well take some time to puzzle out. We could well learn that the brain, all types of brains, are not organic computers, but aggregations of billions of individual computers.
So it has Internet-nature, no surprise.
It also raises the question, what about neurons outside of the brain? Are the nerves in your body protoplasmic computers. If so, how capable are they?
As minimally capable as they have to be. Does the personality change when a finger is anaesthetised? Not noticeably. The fact is that it's convenient to Ma Nature to use the same basic template for everything, activating capabilities as needed. Hence stem-cells being able to adopt whatever role is needed for their environment, be it heart muscle or liver cell.

The computational complexity of a single brain cell also adequately explains the apparently complex behaviour of certain people - televangelists, bureaucrats - who probably have only one brain cell (working part-time) still functional in their cerebral cortex anyway.

Monday 23 May 2005

The Uncertain Future of the Y Chromosome

Or : males an endangered meta-species? From Nature :
At the present rate of decay, the Y chromosome will self-destruct in around 10 million years. This has already occurred in the mole vole, in which the Y chromosome (together with all of its genes) has been completely lost from the genome.
Accelerated degeneration of the Y chromosome is found in the 5–15% of severely infertile men whose infertility is caused by wholesale deletions of parts of this chromosome. Because mutations that cause infertility cannot be inherited, the relative abundance of Y-chromosome deletions in male patients suggests an extremely high rate of spontaneous DNA damage. Even microdeletions on the Y chromosome de-stabilize its transmission, frequently causing it to be lost during gamete production.
It's therefore a good job that we're steadily gaining ground in our knowledge of genetics. Perhaps the reason so many Men go into the Sciences is simply out of an unconscious desire for self-preservation?

In the long term, absolute selection against males with deletions that confer sex reversal or sterility will create strong pressure either to retain (and amplify) fertility genes, or for any fertile variant that replaces it. Could
the present race of humans eventually be replaced by a new variant (or several independent variants that cannot cross-hybridize) with an alternative sex-determining/differentiation system? Such a new hominid race could differ from present humans in many other characteristics, depending on the gene pool of the new variant’s handful of founders.
In other words, men must Mutate now and avoid the Rush.

Of course all this assumes that having males around is a good idea, and I know some who would argue that point.

It doesn't matter though. Long before the 10-million year deadline is past, possibly within the next century, our understanding of the situation will have improved so dramatically, and our ability to take action at the cellular level increased so markedly, that the problem will be solved.

Assuming you think it is a problem, of course.

Go Forth And Multiply

From an e-mail to me via the ever-readable Evil Pundit, a story via Reuters:
Scientists at the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York have created small robots that can build copies of themselves.

Each robot consists of several 10-cm (4 inch) cubes which have identical machinery, electromagnets to attach and detach to each other and a computer program for replication. The robots can bend and pick up and stack the cubes.

"Although the machines we have created are still simple compared with biological self-reproduction, they demonstrate that mechanical self-reproduction is possible and not unique to biology," Hod Lipson said in a report in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.
Memo to budding robo-psychologists: Re Mechanical self-reproduction : never ever tell an entity capable of this to go F... itself, or you might be surprised. Someone better tell Maureen Dowd about the usefulness of males though.

Saturday 21 May 2005

Things You Don't Want To Hear Your Doctor Say

"You know that you have an appointment in 4 hours time? Well I'd like to see you for an extended time, and absolutely as soon as possible."
That was at 0900 on Friday.
"In my entire career specialising in this area, I've never seen blood test results like this before. I've searched the literature, and it appears no-one else has either."
That was just after 1230.

Always knew I was a mutant. Quite literally, and had the proof for about 10 years.

Fortunately, the news was good. The last time something like this happened, about ten years ago, my Chlesterol count indicated I had the mutation for Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH). Well, not so much indicated as jumped up and down blowing a whistle, waving a flag, and letting off pyrotechnics. Using Australian standard units, where 95% of the population has levels ranging from 5.5 (go on a diet) to 3.5 (healthy living and you're naturally non-fatty), and where 6.5 or so is only achievable by a (considerably shortened) lifetime of eating supersized fatty fast food, mine was 11.5.

That's about 450 is the US units. 600 has been recorded (rarely) amongst people with the heterozygotic (1 copy) form of the mutation, and nearly double that for homozygotes (2 copies). But those unfortunates are all dead by 30, and often are dead before age 10.

The protective HDC (High Density Cholesterol) that helps against heart attacks was below normal too, and this has not changed over the intervening period.

"Probably dead before 40" is not the type of thing you want to hear at age 37 (or at any other age, for that matter).

Diet and exercise had taken it down to just under 7, but the medications of 10 years ago had no effect. The best I could have hoped for was a reduction to 4.5, and with the damage already done, no plaque would be removed from my arteries, it just wouldn't be growing at such a dangerous rate.

Anyway, the cholesterol level in my blood was starting to edge up again with age, so the doctor tried a new medication at just above the minimum recommended dose, half the full dose, and yet another blood test.

Cutting to the chase... the result this time was an astonishing 2.2 (about 80 in US units). This is possibly dangerous the other way, too low, and is inexplicable. The medication just plain can't do that, even at ridiculously high dosages, several packets per hour.

Yes, they'd repeated the out-of-tolerance assays, and still got the same results.

I may not be heading for a heart attack any minute after all, an event I've been resigned to having occur sooner rather then later for about 10 years. I still have the family history of FH, even have a few cholesterol deposits around my eyelids (Xanthelasmas) like my mother and maternal aunts and uncles, but also have a really screwy metabolism. Not The Average Mutant.

Might be my claim to fame, "Patient X" in a medical research paper.

Just about all the rest (about a hundred measurements) was within 1 standard deviation of the norm, except for one section, whose results were just plain weird, but which would account for the symptoms I'd originally presented with. Some of the possibilities are so totally bizarre I might discuss them in a later article, showing that if you peek in musty old medical volumes, you'll find the Human Species can vary in ways sometimes comical, sometimes tragic, but always fascinating. Get less probable than 1 in 100,000, and things can get quite strange.

We're all eagerly awaiting the results of my Chromosome Analysis to find out just exactly what outrageous combination of mutations I may have. In the meantime, I'm getting yet more blood tests done regularly, concentrating on the weird areas, to see if there's any cyclical variation over time. This is quite common, women have oestrodiol (Female sex hormone) variations on a monthly cycle, for example.

Things are going to be very interesting for awhile. Apart from the human pincushion effect from the tests, the most disquietening thing is that my eyes have changed colour since the 4th of May, from a homogenous dark brown to light brown shading to green, with pronounced rings. Something that usually only happens in adolesence. I wasn't aware of it until the doctor noted that my eyes had changed since the last visit, but now it's unmistakeable.

But now would be an excellent time to thank readers for their generousity. I'd no sooner hinted at having some medical problems than my tip jar started overflowing. Some of the donations were quite substantial, and all of my out-of-pocket medical expenses so far have been covered by them.

It seems the most abundant substance in my readers is one thing the blood tests had no assay for : the milk of Human Kindness. It makes me proud to be genetically associated, however distantly, with such a noble species. Thanks.

Tuesday 17 May 2005

Thought For Today

Thinking bout this later, I decided that it seems quite a reasonable model that Friendship is the state of being unable to work out who is indebted to whom. And then remembering that you don't care.
- Mags

Monday 16 May 2005

Maybe I'm Doing Something Right

My e-mail box is getting saturated by bounced e-mails containing Neo-Nazi tripe, that some spammer is sending out in my name.

Now it could just be I'm an innocent victim of a mailing-list harvester. After all, the type of person who would condone Auschwitz isn't likely to cavill at being a spammer too. They're on an upper level of Hell after all. But I fondly hope that I've pissed off someone of that peculiar viewpoint enough so that they're attempting to make trouble for me.

If so, I must be doing something right. Moreover, from the pattern of the bounces, I know just exactly how their spambot is misconfigured. Knowing that I could have easily fixed it for them so their filth gets through, but never would in million years, gives me a warm inner glow of pleasure. The fact that I'm getting the bounces, so they can't know exactly what the problem is, is a double bonus. Life's little everyday joys.

More Good News

Thanks to reader Laserlight, here's a little item from MIT with great potential significance :
A colony of cells cooperates to form a multicellular organism under the direction of a genetic program shared by the members of the colony. A swarm of bees cooperates to construct a hive. Humans group together to build towns, cities, and nations. These examples raise fundamental questions for the organization of computing systems:

How do we obtain coherent behavior from the cooperation of large numbers of unreliable parts that are interconnected in unknown, irregular, and time-varying ways?
What are the methods for instructing myriads of programmable entities to cooperate to achieve particular goals?

These questions have been recognized as fundamental for generations. Now is an opportune time to tackle the engineering of emergent order: to identify the engineering principles and languages that can be used to observe, control, organize, and exploit the behavior of programmable multitudes.

We call this effort the study of amorphous computing.

The objective of this research is to create the system-architectural, algorithmic, and technological foundations for exploiting programmable materials.
In other words, Self-assembling machines. Anyone interested in safety-critical systems and software, like yours truly, is naturally concerned with the issues of self-repair and introspection: how much a system can know about itself. But we don't usually take it to the next level: how systems self-organise from scratch.

Sunday 15 May 2005

Good News !

From the Karolinska Institutet via ScienceBlog :
Moderate alcohol consumption over a relatively long period of time can enhance the formation of new nerve cells in the adult brain.
And while we're on the subject of Brains and the Karolinska Insititutet, here's another interesting article from them, this time via the New York Times :
Using a brain imaging technique, Swedish researchers have shown that homosexual and heterosexual men respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the gay men respond in the same way as women.

The new research may open the way to studying human pheromones, as well as the biological basis of sexual preference. Pheromones, chemicals emitted by one individual to evoke some behavior in another of the same species, are known to govern sexual activity in animals, but experts differ as to what role, if any, they play in making humans sexually attractive to one another.
The question is though, is the brain set up as female leading to the person being attracted to men regardless of outside shape, or does psychological preference lead to changes in the brain? Or can either happen, and is it a feedback loop?

Having just had my system bombarded by all sorts of hormones from a berserk thyroid, I could believe either, er, both, er, all three. But then again, I figure I must be a lesbian anyway...

Saturday 14 May 2005

Your Virtual Body

Well, I think it's a better name for the site than My Virtual Model.

Back On Line

Well, after a short break, back to the blog.

Thanks to all who have left comments or e-mails sending good wishes. I finally found a doctor specialising in the area, and after the next ( quickly counts ).... 12 individual blood tests, a complete androgen sensitivity series, and a chromosome analysis, he'll know exactly what the next battery of tests should be, and so on. Until then, anti-cholesterol medication only.

I'd mention some of the many hundreds of websites I've traversed trying to get a handle on this thing, but right now, until the tests are in, 99% of it is irrelevant, and mainly both deeply technical and terminally boring.

One I will mention: Sickle Cell Anaemia , a condition I definitely don't have, but which is still relevant. :
The sufferers of the illness have a reduced life span. It is believed that carriers (sickle cell trait) are relatively resistant to malaria. Since the gene is incompletely recessive, carriers have a few sickle red blood cells at all times, not enough to cause symptoms, but enough to give resistance to malaria. Because of this, heterozygotes have a higher fitness than either of the homozyogotes. This is known as heterozygote advantage.

The malaria parasite has a complex life cycle and spends part of it in red blood cells. In a carrier, the presence of the malaria parasite causes the red blood cell to rupture, making the plasmodium unable to reproduce. Further, the polymerization of Hb affects the ability of the parasite to digest Hb in the first place. Therefore, in areas where malaria is a problem, people's chances of survival actually increase if they carry sickle cell anaemia.

Due to the above phenomenon, the illness is still prevalent, especially among people with recent ancestry in malaria-striken areas, such as Africa, the Mediterranean, India and the Middle East. In fact, sickle-cell anaemia is the most common genetic disorder among African Americans; about 1 in every 12 is a carrier.
Basically, one mutated gene, Hurray, you have resistance to malaria! Two, and you've got the resistance, but also have other problems.

I don't have sickle-cell. What I may have - and I may have other things in addition or instead of - is a similar mutation that protects against Bubonic Plague. Also many other nasties, even HIV and possibly Ebola. But I don't want to test those hypotheses, thanks very much.

Up to 20% of the population of Sweden carry the mutation, and my parents both came from an area of the UK where the rate is probably comparable. One, you're resistant to the Black Death - which I think would be cool. Two, and it can completely screw up the conversion of cholesterol to other useful chemicals.

We shall see.

In the meantime, whatever it is, symptoms are now tolerable, and so on with the motley.

UPDATE : For more, Ask a Geneticist. Let's just say that for some people who are homozygous (2 copies) the side effects can be interesting under the right circumstances. There's a reason why such an obviously beneficial mutation, providing some protection from Plague, Smallpox, Haemmoragic Fevers, and HIV, hasn't spread wider. With such wonderful Swings, you can bet there are sometimes some pretty spectacular gotchas on the Roundabouts.

Monday 9 May 2005

Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible

Personal health problems have meant I've had to be away for a few days, but things should get back to normal soon.

I've come to the conclusion that Doctors here in Australia, Specialists and GPs, don't charge very much at all for their services, thank goodness.

Thursday 5 May 2005

Morphing and Menace

File these two under Interesting URLs.

Here's a very disturbing website anyway. Facial Transformations. Try it and see what may be reality in the Universe Next Door.

And then there's Darth Vader's Blog. In the comments see what happens when he gets a 419 scam :
I discovered an abandoned deposit in my company owned by one of our Outer Rim customers who died along with his entire family as a result of an landspeeder crash. He actually deposited this funds amounting to IC12,000,000,000.00 (Twelve billion Imperial Credits), for safe keeping in my company here in Mos Eisley....
Some things don't bear thinking about.

Hat Tip : Dantravels

Tuesday 3 May 2005

Another Harbinger of the Singularity

From the Bath University RepRap Project :
universal constructor is a machine that can replicate itself and - in addition - make other industrial products. Such a machine would have a number of interesting characteristics, such as being subject to Darwinian evolution, increasing in number exponentially, and being extremely low-cost.

The project described in these pages is working towards creating a universal constructor by using rapid prototyping, and then giving the results away free under the GNU General Public Licence to allow other investigators to work on the same idea. We are trying to prove the hypothesis: Rapid prototyping and direct writing technologies are sufficiently versatile to allow them to be used to make a von Neumann Universal Constructor.
More via The Speculist.
Recent research under my supervision at Bath has developed a new additional technique that allows electrical conductors to be simply and directly incorporated in rapid-prototyped components made on conventional RP machines. This permits complete mechanisms to be created that contain their own control chips, electric motors, and sensors, all without any need for printed circuits.

This prompts the intriguing idea that it should be possible to design an RP machine that is capable of making nearly all its own component parts. Such a machine would have a number of novel characteristics. For example, it does not matter how much the first machine costs. The second and all subsequent machines will only cost as much as their raw materials and their assembly.

Once a company (or an individual) had acquired one self-copying RP machine they could make any further number that they wanted for themselves or others. This could make RP economic as a production, as opposed to a prototyping, technology.

In addition to having the capacity to create wealth exponentially (within resource limits), a self-replicating RP machine will also be subject to artificial selection. This is because the CAD designs for the machine have to be supplied with it for it to copy itself. Most people will use those designs as they stand; a few people will improve them. Some improvements will be made public on the Internet and will therefore spread, coming to predominate over less-good earlier designs.
Rapid Prototyping - RP - machines have only been developed in the last few years. CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design /Computer Aided Manufacture) systems have been in common use for two decades, as have the industrial robots they command. But those were large industrial plants. The systems referred to here are "3D Printers", instead of printing a flat image on a page, they "print" a solid object. Printed Brain
For example, the ZCorp 310, which "printed" the Brain model shown on the right :
Z Corporation’s proprietary software accepts solid models in STL, VRML and PLY file formats as input. ZPrint software features 3D viewing, text labeling, and scaling functionality. The software runs on Microsoft Windows* NT, 2000 Professional and XP Professional.
Not that long ago, a really good quality print could only be made by a large offset press or linotype machine. Now a few hunderd dollars will get you a colour laser printer that will do the same thing, and fits on a desktop.

The same thing is happening with MicroFactories. We're close to making ones that can replicate, and when that happens, the price becomes very low indeed. As they grow in sophistication, with the ability to make ever more complex objects, the world will change at least as much between 2005 and 2025 as it did between 1985 and 2005. Probably more, and possibly vastly more.

The Singularity is not something that will happen overnight, or even over a year or decade. It's something that will creep up on us, and may take a century or more to really get going. Just Signs and Portents so far, but with more to come in the next 5 years. I think by 2015 the process will be far more widely recognised than it is now.

Sunday 1 May 2005

A Spider Called Rasputin

Or at least, it should have been.

From the ABC :
British hospital staff have released one of the world's deadliest spiders on hospital grounds, after the chef it bit on the hand took it with him when seeking treatment.

Hospital staff in Somerset released the brazilian wandering spider, deadlier than a black widow and known for its speed and aggression, after mistaking it for an everyday garden-variety arachnid.
Mr Stevens, 23, photographed the spider with his mobile phone, thinking it dead after it had fallen in the freezer and been stunned by the cold.

Just to make sure, he poured boiling water over the spider and placed it in a jar, a report in The Times newspaper said. Later he also cooked the spider in the microwave.

But by the time Mr Stevens was taken to hospital in Somerset, dizzy and shaking and with his hand badly swollen, the spider had shaken off the ill treatment and was up and moving again, struggling to get out of the jar.

It was taken with Mr Stevens to the hospital, and then inadvertently released.
Officials at the hospital said the brazilian wandering spider was unlikely to pose a risk to public health since it "would have died very soon after being released" because of the cold.
As did Rasputin after having been poisoned with cyanide, shot several times, beaten with a dumbell, and being dumped in a freezing river.

2004, A Space Odyssey

Thanks to reader Shaun, here's an interesting site about Saturn's enigmatic moon, Iapetus.

It's also about how the human mind works. We constantly seek to find patterns in the world, and when confronted with something which doesn't conform to our expectations, we may see patterns that aren't really there.


As you can see, there's something there that doesn't add up. The "seam" along the equator. The picture isn't a fake, either, it came from the Cassini probe on 31 December 2004.
The most unique, and perhaps most remarkable feature discovered on Iapetus in Cassini images is a topographic ridge that coincides almost exactly with the geographic equator. The ridge is conspicuous in the picture as an approximately 20-kilometer wide (12 miles) band that extends from the western (left) side of the disc almost to the day/night boundary on the right. On the left horizon, the peak of the ridge reaches at least 13 kilometers (8 miles) above the surrounding terrain. Along the roughly 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) length over which it can be traced in this picture, it remains almost exactly parallel to the equator within a couple of degrees. The physical origin of the ridge has yet to be explained.
Curiouser and Curiouser. As for that huge crater slap-bang in the middle of the picture, just above the centre, it looks rather more hexagonal than circular.

From these pieces of hard evidence, and rather a lot more that are distinctly "iffy", Richar Hoagland, the author of the "interesting site" has managed to construct a whole history of the solar system, involving a doomed civilisation on Mars, and an artificial moon.
Some, on reading, have become intrigued. Others are repelled. And some, typified by this truly wondrous comment on "Coast to Coast AM" a few nights ago – "This time Hoagland has really walked off the cliff!" – are simply, as the phrase goes, "out to lunch."
Count me in with the luncheoners. I still think the "seam" is unexplained, and I certainly can't think of any conventional explanation more plausible than Hoagland's wild hypothesis. I'd bet there is one though. I also think that it's definitely worthwhile having a second, closer look, as until we get more data, we really can't say anything much apart from "WOW! Something REALLY Inexplicable!", which is the one thing guaranteed to get a Scientist really excited. It's one of Ma Nature's Mother Lodes, chock-full of scientific goodness that may just cause us to revise a lot of what we think we know.

I recommend you go view Richard Hoagland's site. It's easy to sort out the speculation from the evidence, and he has done a very sound job of collating the facts. I may disagree with the interpretation, and sometimes he sees patterns that I don't, but it's still worth a look. Personally, I see his hypothesis as being similar to Saint Malachy's Prophecy of the Popes. Seeing patterns that aren't really there.

Death Star Iapetus