Saturday, December 24, 2011

David Attenborough's First Life

First Life is a 2010 British nature documentary written and presented by David Attenborough, also known by the expanded titles David Attenborough's First Life (UK) and First Life with David Attenborough (USA).

It was first broadcast in the USA as a two-hour special on the Discovery Channel on 24 October 2010. In the United Kingdom it was broadcast as a two-part series on BBC Two on 5 November 2010.

First Life sees Attenborough tackle the subject of the origin of life on Earth. He investigates the evidence from the earliest fossils, which suggest that complex animals first appeared in the oceans around 500 million years ago, an event known as the Cambrian Explosion.

Trace fossils of multicellular organisms from an even earlier period, the Ediacaran biota, are also examined.

The naturalist travels to Canada, Morocco and Australia, using some of the latest fossil discoveries and their nearest equivalents amongst living species to reveal what life may have been like at that time. Visual effects and computer animation are used to reconstruct and animate the extinct life forms.

The series was directed by freelance film-maker Martin Williams and series produced by Anthony Geffen, CEO and Executive Producer of Atlantic Productions, with whom Attenborough is also working on a 3D documentary for the satellite broadcaster Sky.

It was produced in association with the BBC, the Discovery Channel and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. During production, it had the working title The First Animals.
Attenborough's Journey, a documentary film profiling the presenter as he journeyed around the globe filming First Life, was shown on BBC Two on 24 October 2010. A hardback book to accompany the series, authored by Matt Kaplan with a foreword by Attenborough, was published in September 2010.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Asimov and FuRo futuristic robot Halluc II

Halluc II concept vehicle

From concept to reality
FuRo took the concept from Asimov's science fiction and used it to create robotic concept vehicles called Hallucigenia-I and Halluc-II for their dream-like hallucinogenic look. 

And look and wonder! The working prototypes of these vehicle, which has 8 wheels on the end of 8 robotic appendages, can move in any direction and can climb over uneven terrain!

The Japanese technology company Future Robotics Technology Center FuRo tells about itself:

"fuRo" is an old Italian word that means existence, life, essence. The fuRo logo is modeled on chromosomes, symbolizing the evolution of robots. 

FuRo's robot development capabilities are world-class. 
Robot technologies will be an essential element in the formation of the society, life and culture of the future. At fuRo we have gathered the technologies and technologists needed to conduct R&D in next-generation technologies. The morph team that made up the robot development group at the Japan Science and Technology Agency has relocated in total to the Chiba Institute of Technology. fuRo is at the core of collaborations within and beyond the academy to develop the technologies of the future.

fuRo executes robots of the future never seen before.
Projects including joint research with the world-renowned industrial designer Shunji Yamanaka of Leading Edge Design inject the arts into robot technology and reach beyond conventional concepts. New machines of the future result from the incorporation of product design techniques. We are envisioning and delivering new ways of living for human beings.

fuRo creates new robot industry sectors.
Numerous joint research and development projects are already underway with several major companies. With robot technologies at their core, they involve the fusion of a wide range of technologies. We are engaged in active collaboration with the private sector to develop the underlying technologies for new industrial sectors and foster market demand for their product with the aim of bringing about new robot technologies and business sectors.

My apologies to all Isaac Asimov fans - for the creature described in these blogs is not the product of his amazing fiction but is a divine design from the mind of God of Israel himself.

Artist's rendering of Hallucigenia according to the modern interpretation

Hallucigenia is an extinct genus of animal found as fossils in the Middle Cambrian-aged Burgess Shale formation of British Columbia, Canada, represented by the species H. sparsa, and in the Lower Cambrian Maotianshan shale of China, represented by the species H. fortis.

The genus name was coined by Simon Conway Morris when he re-examined the various specimens of Charles Walcott's Burgess Shale worm genus Canadia in 1979. Conway Morris found that what Walcott had called one genus in fact included several quite different animals.

One of them was so unusual that nothing about it made much sense. Since the species clearly was not a polychaete worm, Conway Morris had to provide a new generic name to replace Canadia. Conway Morris named the species Hallucigenia sparsa because of its "bizarre and dream-like quality" (like a hallucination). Hallucigenia was initially considered by Stephen Jay Gould to be unrelated to any living species, but most palaeontologists now believe that the species was a relative of modern arthropods.

I would like to point out to all those science oriented people who can see life only in terms of questions of evolution that this amazing little creature is present already in Lower Cambrian.

The creative mind of Isaac Asimov

Isaak Yudovich Ozimov (1920-1992) was a Russian born author and professor of biochemistry working at Boston University. His family was Jewish and emigrated to the USA when he was only three years old.

Asimov is widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he was considered one of the "Big Three" science fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov's most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series, both of which he later tied into the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series to create a unified "future history" for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson.

He wrote many short stories, among them Nightfall, which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.

Isaac Asimov and the Bible
He published Asimov's Guide to the Bible in two volumes—covering the Old Testament in 1967 and the New Testament in 1969— and then combined them into one 1,300-page volume in 1981. Complete with maps and tables, the guide goes through the books of the Bible in order, explaining the history of each one and the political influences that affected it, as well as biographical information about the important characters.

His interest in literature manifested itself in several annotations of literary works, including Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare (1970), Asimov's Annotated Paradise Lost (1974), and The Annotated Gulliver's Travels (1980).

Fictional universes

Asimov: Gaïa et Galaxia

Genesis, from the holy Books of Judaism, tells that God of Israel created man and woman in His image.

:ויברא אלהים את־האדם בצלמו בצלם אלהים ברא אתו זכר ונקבה ברא אתם
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.
Genesis 1:27

What does this mean beyond the domination over all living creatures? 

Well - for one thing, man does have a curious, imaginary and highly creative mind.

Ask Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke or Robert A. Heinlein who have used their skills in writing to create entire fictional worlds!

Not just some imaginary nonsensical worlds but logical and fundamentally hard science fiction worlds that do make sense.

(We could place the Matrix trilogy of movies into the same category of science fiction because of the many creatures depicted in them. However, the series is far less science oriented and emphasizes oriental fighting techniques as the true solution to the most fundamental problems threatening the future of humanity!)

Power of human creative mind!
Whikiphedia tells:
During his golden decade of 1950'ies the famed Russian-American science fiction author Isaac Asimov described in one of his stories publisehd in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction a bizarre and dream-like robot.

The astronaut had entered the huge spaceship and noticed near him a strange small robotic thing on the sea like liquid. It was only about three centimeters long and narrow and there was a rather poorly defined blob, or stain, on one end. The astronaut was thinking that the "blob" was maybe the 'head' of the thing even though it had none of the features generally associated with heads: mouth, eyes, or other sensory organs.

According to Asimov's description the robot noticed among the strange creatures in the alien spaceship had seven pincer-tipped arms - almost like tentacles - lined up on one side and seven pairs of what looked like jointed spines on the other. Six of the "tentacles" were paired with spines, with one in front of the spines.

There were also six smaller tentacle like things made of the same glimmering material in three pairs behind the seven larger ones.

In addition, the robot body continued with a flexible, tube-like, tail-like extension behind the tentacles.
whikiphedia (modified by me)
See my next blog for more discussion about this amazing thing of fiction.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

General notes on Cambrian chronology

We have shortly discussed three world famous Cambrian period Konservat Lagerstätten that are today located very far from each other: Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale in British Columbia, Canada, Lower Cambrian Emu Bay Shale in Kangoroo Island, Australia and Lower Cambrian Maotianshan Shales in the Maotianshan Hill,Chengjiang County, China.

Continental drift
Hypotehtical Pangaea supercontinent

The dating of ancient rock strata is nasty business.

In the beginning of the Cambrian era some 500 mya these locations were all in the massive Pangaea supercontinent breaking up as result of tectonic processes on the spinning planet Earth. The divine Nature Reserves have then traveled with the continental plates to their present locations in the continents of Asia, Australia and North America separated from each other by oceans.

For a simulation of the breakup see wikimedia

Earth scientists use chronologically sequential terms like "Lower, Middle, and Upper Cambrian" to indicate a relative dating for the rocks. But establishing such classifications in detail is not at all simple.

 Generalized view of the Europe-vergent Alpine belt (1909) ref

Continuing movement of tectonic plates not only carried indicative Konservat Lagerstätten far from each other. They totally messed up the neat overlaying deposits that were formed in the bottom of oceans with continuous folding, breaking up, pushing down and forcing up of the deposits. For example, the impossibly complex Triassic and Jurassic deposits in the Alps have rockstrata from much earlier periods over younger rocks because uplifted mountains fall over and covered large areas of deposits from later periods.

Relative and absolute chronology
Biostratigraphy is a widely used method to use indicative leitfossil evidence in dating rock strata.  However, because of the complexity of Earth's geological history there is always the danger of the logical error of circular reasoning

A. deposit 1 has leitfossil X1 and is therefore dated to Y
B. deposit 2 has leitfossil X2 and is therefore dated to Y
C. accordingly, newly discovered fossils X1a and X2a are dated to period Y

This could happen, for example, when using Tribolite zones for dating geological deposits.

Geologists are constantly discussing the suggested sequences and try to standardize a global chronology with the help of also other than fossil evidence. Various Atomic clocks are used to measure the usually quite faint levels of natural radioactivity. On basis of the known decay rates of matter Physicists can suggest a date for the sample. Atomic clocks provide absolute dates for the relative sequences created by comparing geographical strata with the help of fossils and other elements embedded in the rocks.

The discovery of longer undisturbed sequences of Cambrian rocks covering several stages is, of course, a rare treasure and provides a measuring yard for the less well-preserved sequences.

Taken together, biostratigraphy and radioactive clocks have provided what is considered a reasonably reliable general chronology for Earth's crust - leave or take a few million years.

Cambrian chronology 542-488 mya
(the following text is taken from wikipedia and slightly edited by me for additional clarity)

The Cambrian period follows the Ediacaran and is followed by the Ordovician period. 
The Cambrian is divided into four epochs or series and ten ages or stages. 
Currently only two series and four stages are named and have a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP).
Because the international stratigraphic subdivision is not yet complete, many local subdivisions are still widely used. In some of these subdivisions the Cambrian is divided into three epochs with locally differing names – 
Lower (Early) Cambrian (Caerfai or Waucoban, 542 ± 0.3 to 513 ± 1.7)  
Middle Cambrian (St Davids or Albertian, 513 ± 0.3 to 499 ± 1.7
Upper (Late) Cambrian (499 ± 0.3 to 488.3 ± 1.7) also known as Furongian, Merioneth or Croixan). 
Trilobite zones allow biostratigraphic correlation in the Cambrian.
Each of the local epochs is divided into several stages. The Cambrian is divided into several regional faunal stages of which the Russian-Kazakhian system is most used in international parlance:
ChineseNorth AmericanRussian-KazakhianAustralianRegional
Ibexian (part)AyusokkanianDatsonianDolgellian (Trempealeauan, Fengshanian)
SunwaptanSakianIverianFestiniogian (Franconian, Changshanian)