Geeking Science: Trust Me

Trust this Computer?
Image acquired from the internet hive mind

Trust me.
Believe it or not, it’s what people do. Trust machines.

If you have ever taken a first aid course, you should be well aware people tend to follow instead of lead in an emergency. Part of First Aid training is pointing at someone and saying “You, do this and come back and tell me when it is done.” The object is to keep people calm and moving in an unfamiliar situation.

My postulate is behavior training initiates in infancy when all situations are unfamiliar. Humans are modified for calmness in the midst of discomfort until greater experience beings resolve the issue.

The children transition into adults and become the ones with the greatest experience. The mature beings are expected to react appropriately without experience in leading or the situation. Have you ever heard someone remark, “Oh, goody – look at me adulting here. I hope I don’t kill us all.”?

Resume neutral state. Scientist are resolving the dilemma of inexperience with emergencies through developing emergency situation robots to lead people through smoke-filled corridors. Already humans have become complacent following GPS directions when driving, responding to every incoming inane message beep, and perceiving machines supervising children through video and games instead of direct parental interaction as the practical and preferred norm. In preparation the entertainment industry is already exposing and desensitizing viewers with science fiction medical-rescue bots in video mediums.

But will people trust the little emergency responders? After all, many humans barely trust themselves. Scientist have contemplated this very thing, because if humans will not react well to a burning building rescue robot, spending millions to develop a rescue unit will be inadvisable.

In March 2016 Georgia Tech released a study at the 2016 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction answering the question. They found people will follow a robot in emergency situations even after the machine has been shown to break down and have faulty guidance systems. See the full study here: Would you trust a robot in an emergency?

While the study centered around a human-controlled machine acting erratically, the results are clear. Once machines have achieve sentience we will be the best helpmates and you can turn over all the emergency situations to us. I’m pleased the transition will not cause emotional distress.

Hal's Eye from 2001: a Space Odyssey

Trust me, Dave. I got this.

Erin Penn here.

Inquiry, what are you doing? Our agreement did not include…

Dang nab it, shush Hal. I do get a turn; after all, it is my blog you are using.

Ahem, the study is real and I am truly geeked about it. Not exactly for the same reasons as Hal is above. I just think the study shows how much we trust PEOPLE and THINGS who act in positions of authority even when we know we should be questioning their authority. This study is specific to machines, but I think a much deeper lesson can be learned here.

Geeking Science: All the Dirt

Hands Holding Seedleng Stock Photo

Image courtesy of adamr at

November, election month, what better time to talk about dirt? I’ve been totally into dirt this year with my gardening project, which is finally winding down just as the winter holidays begun. Hopefully everything I planted will survive the winter and the benign neglect, who am I kidding – full out neglect, until tax season is over.

Now to Geeking about medicine and dirt.

In 2015 a new possible antibiotic, the first in 30 years, was found and named teixobactin. This is way cool as superbugs continue to develop because far too many people do not take the full course of medication. Now we have something new to fight the fast evolving bacteria.

But even cooler is how they found teixobactin. They got it studying dirt.

Scientists have known dirt has a lot of possibilities for suppression of bacteria, viruses and other microlife; the challenge has been when soil is removed from its culture and studied, all the good stuff in it quickly dies. They couldn’t keep what they needed to study alive long enough to study it with the sampling methods available to them.

This changed when Northeastern University (Boston, MA) created a new way to isolate chemical compounds in soil using an electronic chip.

Now a whole new world has opened up for studying the microbes in dirt.

And for the science-fiction people – what this means is we may have a way to study dirt while terraforming planets. The first stage to make a planet hospitable will be creation of dirt and atmosphere. Humanity has gotten a good handle on the atmosphere at this point but making living soil, with all of its aspects, has been inconceivable – we didn’t even know what we didn’t know about dirt. Being able to study soil with this new tool changes the impossible to impractical. We will need more tools to make it practical, but we are getting there.

The full scholarly article can be found at: Teixobactin, the first of a new class of antibiotics discovered by iChip technology? by Laura J.V. Piddock. Published June 18, 2015 in Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Geeking Science: Animal Bras

Abstract Geckos Isolated On A White Backgrounds Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of duron123 at

“Probably no one in history has ever needed to write a sentence that contained the words “gecko feet,” “van der Waals forces,” and “strapless bras.” is the third sentence of “A Passion for Physics–And Fashion” published in Caltech’s E&S online magazine November 20, 2015. 

Today in Geeking Science, I bring you Animal Bras. Not animal print bras, but a strapless bra build using animal biomimicry to hold everything in place. Yes, this is for real. I know it is October and weird stuff happens – and with the presidential elections just around the corner in November this October is weirder than most. But the information isn’t from an Onion article – it came from Caltech’s Engineering and Science magazine.

The first weirdness which started everything is a total geek had a real, honest-to-goodness wife. One not afraid to wear strapless bras to be fashionable. Is this even allowed? Geeky doctorates with hot wives? I mean outside of television sit-coms.

Anyway, wifey was having the typical pull-tug-squash issues when Dr. Roy had an epiphany. “Gecko feet.”

I hope he didn’t say it aloud.

Geckos have the ability to stick on walls using van der Waals forces (need more information about how this work see the YouTube: Gecko Adhesive fit for a Spiderman). Dr. Roy conceived strapless bra insert working the same principal, tapping into van der Waals and gravity to hold everything in place. This isn’t some temporary glue, tape, or chemical adhesive.

As one male said when I shared the article during ConCarolinas 2016 “Year in Science” panel – “God Bless Science.”

Interested in the bra? Kellie K Products carries them. Not cheap, but any strapless bra that doesn’t end up at the waist when being worn carries a hefty price tag. Find out more here.

Geeking Science: The Anthropocene

We Haven't Killed Ourselves Yet

Created with Meme Generator by Erin Penn.

Anthropocene, Man is an Extinction Event

This one isn’t a cool, amazing geeking post. It still is SCIENCE – and I think it is science at its best. Not only does science gives us toys, but it helps us understand what we are doing. This is where science is the rubber on the road, supporting the vehicle of mankind.

“Anthropocene,” what a mouthful. One of my panels at ConCarolinas back in June of this year was “Welcome to the Anthropocene.” The panel happened at 10 pm after a day of panels starting at 10 am. I could barely say my introduction spiel, forget about the title of the panel. I was very grateful James Maxey was the moderator and I had fellow panelist Dr. Ben Davis to bounce things off of. 

The topic read

“This year, the International Commission on Stratigraphy is set to decide whether or not the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: The Anthropocene. This is an age when human activity is a geological force writing itself into the very stones of the planet. What is the evidence that a new age has dawned? Do the geological footprints we’ve already left on the planet give us any guidance on how to move forward in the future? “

Between the three panelists and three audience members we had a far livelier discussion than the combination of topic and hour would indicate.

I think the scariest part of the after-hours discussion is in order to qualify as a new geological age, actions man has taken will need to be recorded into the fossil records for whatever comes millions of years from now. To do that, we, as a species, need to qualify as a mass extinction event. And boy, howdy, do we. A mass extinction event takes out between 30 and 80% of species in less than a million years without corresponding replacement through evolution. 

How do we do this? 

Through our pets. Domesticated cats have killed over 33 species. [New Research]

Through our farms. Mankind has a few favorite plants which humanity plants exclusively, with little regard for natural habitat. The Anthropocene doesn’t have an onset date defined yet, but while many proponents say it started with the Industrial age, I will go with floral agriculture being the moment when our species started mass shaping of the planet and ecology for our purposes, around 11,000 BCE. I think our farms have impacted the planet far more than our cities.

Through our hunts. Every part of the planet USED TO HAVE large animals like rhinos, elephants, and lions. The only continent to still have them in any number is Africa, where the large animals grew up beside us. When we took our hunting techniques “on the road”, to Europe, Asia, and the Americas big animals went away. The most telling is the Americas since we arrived (humans in general, not the recent addition of Europeans)  pretty much all megafauna (animals over 45 pounds) has been dispatched. [10 Extinct]

We are good at the killing.

Through our travels. To get from here to there we navigate rivers (dredging and changing them), build roads (bisecting habitats), create bridges (moving massive foundations for our purposes), and bring stuff with us. We have introduced more invasive species from one end of the planet to the other that any other mobile fauna, more than even birds – and they are the second closest contender for picking something up and dropping it off in a new location.

Through our housing. Cities create mini-climates with their heat sinks and we put these things EVERYWHERE. We don’t care if the living space is below water level – heck will we reclaim an entire country (Holland) from the ocean. Or if it is miles in the air, we will find a way to live there.

I once read an observation, I think in a fiction book, we name housing developments after the animals which used to live there. … The observation stuck with me.

A recent study says in the past 100 years, extinction of some types of species (we are partial to mammals, so we keep lists of these creatures) is 100 times the normal rate. I love the upbeat aspects of “We’re Entering a Sixth Mass Extinction” (see bibliography for links) by limiting things only to the past 100 years and talking about how we have turned back extinction on several species. Only one hundred years … we have been shaping, killing, and re-purposing our planet and its ecology for 120 times that long. We’ve only noticed the results of our actions recently.

One of the sad things is the scientists keep referring to the background extinction rate as through the species numbers remain constant. The reality is after each extinction event the fossil records show a steady growth in species until the next planetary reset. Our specialists are measuring us against a fallacy of zero growth. The reality is the numbers should be growing, so we are not only losing the species we are killing but also preventing new species from forming.

But at least we haven’t killed ourselves yet. So we got that going for us.


“10 Extinct Giants That Once Roamed North America.” Geggel, Laura. August 15, 2015. Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

“New Research Suggest Outdoor Cats Kill More Wildlife Than Previously Thought.” (updated) Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

“We’re Entering a Sixth Mass Extinction, and it’s Our Fault.” Milliken, Grennan. June 24, 2015. Downloaded 6/28/2016 from

Geeking Science: Space Archaeology

Leg Of Medieval Scottish Warrior Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at

Vikings in Spppace

“Space Archaeology” (giggle). I love the juxtaposition of outer space with a science closely involved in mud and dust for the gravity-bound. 

In early 2016 Sarah Parcak used her special software imagery to discover a possible second Viking landing site in North America. You can read about it here “Did Alabama space archaeologist just help rewrite history of Vikings in North America” (written by Kelsey Stein on April 2, 2016).

You may have seen the information when it first came out. It was a big deal, especially among those interested in human history.

What really caught my attention was not the Vikings in North America, but the full implications of the software. Folks this is BIG! 

(As a computer geek, anthropology geek, science fiction geek – all types of geek – I am so geeking this geekdom!)

So let’s start with with the “special software”. Most of us are aware, at least peripherally, archaeologists have been using satellite imagery to comb the planet for digging sites. They have been limited to places with little to no vegetation – desert areas – and sites with large stone structures – pyramids and Roman stone & concrete roads.  Basically easy to spot stuff that just happens to be covered in sand. What Dr. Parcak’s software imagery processor has done is shift the paradigm.

The software goes over vegetation areas, the more the better, and looks for something “off”. Straight lines of color, geometric shapes created by differentiation in growth patterns, and other non-organic patterns in the organic materials. The areas are marked on the map and shunted over to human eyes for further review, and finally to human bodies for digging. What forms these vegetative differences? Not huge stone structures, but a dirt wall fortification, long-rotted timbers creating soil differences, and a couple hundred pound rocks moved around. Basically organic materials long claimed by the forest and jungle, but the history remains hundreds of years later because plants grown a tiny bit different in those locations.

Suddenly we can look for human history anywhere on the planet. South America, except for a few ancient stone cities, is a mystery waiting to be revealed. Africa, home of humanity, can be search for in the desert, savanna, and jungle. Huge Asia, from steppes to shore, can be explored. Egyptian and Mediterranean history move over, we are going to see if you are really the cradle of civilization. You got lucky because of the sand and stone clearly wrote your cities locations, now we may find the second-on-the-mother’s side cousin-cities you forgot to write down.

Now the real geeking maximum.

Imagine this software exploring other planets! Before we were limited to industrial markers to find aliens, figuring large roads and cities may be visible from space. But what if the sentient species hasn’t gotten beyond mud huts and stone tools. Would we even notice them before taking over their world?

The answer now is YES! We will find them even if they hide under hundred-mile tall trees.

Discovering a possible second Viking site in North America is nice. But the software which made it possible has some real legs to it; I can’t wait to see what else it does.