Sunday, October 31, 2021


As announced on 2021-10-26, effective today, SCANALYZER has completed its move to the SCANALYST site, which is in full production mode.


All content posted here since 2021-10-04 has been mirrored at SCANALYST, and new content will only be posted there. You can either bookmark the SCANALYST main page, which contains other topics in addition to SCANALYZER, or go directly to the SCANALYZER category page, which will only show you those posts.

SCANALYST is a Discourse discussion forum, in which registered members can comment and create their own posts, but there is no need to join in order to read the SCANALYZER posts just as you've done here. If you do wish to join, SCANALYST has no subscription fees, no advertising, and requires no personal information other than a valid E-mail address to confirm your sign-up. We will never knowingly disclose any personal information about users.

I'll see you at SCANALYST!

Posted at 11:38 Permalink

Saturday, October 30, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Breakthrough Listen Candidate Signal Evaluated to be Terrestrial Interference

On 2019-04-29, the Parkes radio telescope in Australia was observing the closest star, Proxima Centauri, to study its flare behaviour. The Breakthrough Listen project was conducting a piggy-back analysis of the signals, filtering for narrow-band emissions which might indicate transmissions from a technological civilisation. A signal was received, persisting for two and a half hours, which passed all of the tests for such a signal:

  1. It is a ~Hz-wide narrowband signal, which cannot be created by any known or foreseeable astrophysical system, only by technology.
  2. It exhibits a non-zero drift rate, as expected for a transmitter that was not on the surface of the Earth.
  3. Its drift rate appears approximately linear in each 30 min ‘panel’ (one single-target observation from a cadence of observations that makes up a waterfall plot), but the drift rate changes smoothly over time, as expected for a transmitter in a rotational/orbital environment.
  4. It is absent in the off-source observations (see ‘Initial investigation and parametrization of blc1’), as expected for a signal that is localized on the sky.
  5. It persists over several hours, making it unlike other interferers from artificial satellites or aircraft that we have observed before.

The signal was declared a “candidate” by Breakthrough Listen and given the name “blc1” for Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1”. Two papers published in the 2021-10-25 issue of Nature Astronomy:

have now concluded that the signal was likely terrestrial interference. From the abstract of the second paper:

… [W]e find that blc1 is not an extraterrestrial technosignature, but rather an electronically drifting intermodulation product of local, time-varying interferers aligned with the observing cadence. We find dozens of instances of radio interference with similar morphologies to blc1 at frequencies harmonically related to common clock oscillators.

A popular “front of book” article in the same issue with the somewhat sensational title “Mysterious ‘alien beacon’ was false alarm” summarises the results. The actual source of the signal has not been identified, and the signal has never been observed since.

Here is an interview with Shane Smith, the Hillsdale College undergraduate intern at the Berkeley SETI project, who discovered the signal in the Parkes data.

Posted at 13:43 Permalink

CONTEXT: From 1970—IBM System/370 Product Announcements

The IBM System/370 was announced in June 1970 as the replacement for its extremely successful System/360 range of mainframes. It was 100% upward compatible with System/360, running the same operating systems and application programs and supporting the same peripherals, and thus provided an easy migration path for System/360 customers. It replaced the “solid logic” circuitry used in the 360 with monolithic integrated circuits, and the 370/145 and all subsequent models replaced core memory with semiconductor main memory.

When the System/370 was announced, many observers were surprised it did not include virtual memory, which was all the rage in computer architecture at the time, and which IBM had previously introduced in the System/360 model 67 in 1965. In 1972, the original System/370 models 155 and 165 were replaced by the 158 and 168 which did support virtual memory, as did all subsequent models in the series. The System/370 would continue to be marketed for twenty years until replaced by the System/390, with numerous evolutionary changes in the architecture over time.

The IBM 3211 printer shown in the final film was stunning. Nobody made printers like IBM—this beast would crank out 2000 lines per minute, day and night, box after box of paper, without a hiccup.

Posted at 13:00 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Exploring Ant Nest Architecture with Molten Metal

Prof. Walter Tschinkel's book, Ant Architecture: The Wonder, Beauty, and Science of Underground Nests, published in June 2021, describes the techniques he has developed for casting ant nests and what he has learned about the various ways ants structure their subterranean habitats.

Posted at 12:21 Permalink

CONTINUITY: KIC 8462852 (Boyajian's Star): Possible Periodicity?

The mystery star KIC 8462852, “Tabby's Star”, which the Kepler spacecraft observed to exhibit stunning (up to 22%) and irregular dimming events, continues to defy explanation. In 2017, Gary Sacco and two co-authors reported “A 1574-day periodicity of transits orbiting KIC 8462852”. The period has come around again, and current observations indicate the dips have returned, but not as deep as observed by Kepler. Images of the star have been found on archival plates exposed in 1978 and 1935 showing dimming consistent with the periodicity. In this interview, Gary Sacco provides an update on the current observing season, the archive discoveries, and speculations on the cause of the dimming events.

Posted at 11:41 Permalink

Friday, October 29, 2021


Posted at 12:15 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Boeing Takes Another US$ 185 Million Charge on “Hangar Queen” Starliner

Posted at 11:48 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Mark Zuckerberg on the Metaverse

At Facebook Connect, Mark Zuckerberg announced the renaming of the Facebook parent company as “Meta” and his vision for the “Metaverse”, a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash. CNET has assembled a compilation of various segments describing how a mature system might look.

This is a different compilation, with some duplication, that discusses the name change and goes into more detail about human interface device development.

What is missing from Zuckerberg's “vision”. Well, his “metaverse” doesn't seem to have the ubiquitous, intrusive, and unavoidable advertising which pollute all of his other platforms—what do you think the odds are it won't be even more horrific in an immersive three-dimensional virtual world. And then there's the snooping, data-mining, censorship, indoctrination, and cancellation of people for wrong-think. Just imagine how much more power the operators of the metaverse will have when they can ban individuals or organisations from this unified means of social interaction and commerce. I'll bet the reality looks more like that imagined by Keiichi Matsuda in his short film “Hyper-Reality”, which I featured here back on 2021-10-01, but is worth another view in the context of the Facebook/Meta announcement.

It has been thirty-three years since my 1988 paper, “Through the Looking Glass: Beyond ‘User Interfaces’ ”.

Posted at 11:12 Permalink

THE HAPPENING WORLD: X1-Class Solar Flare—Coronal Mass Ejection Heading for Earth

Here is more on the event and predictions for its consequences at

Posted at 10:23 Permalink

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Supersonic Baseball: 1, Mayonnaise Jar: 0

Posted at 10:15 Permalink

Thursday, October 28, 2021

THE HAPPENING WORLD: Intel 12th Generation “Alder Lake” i9-12900K Processor—Press Kit and a Look Inside

Intel's 12th generation CPUs, code named “Alder Lake” is scheduled to launch on November 4th, 2021. Here is a description of the chips and rumoured specifications.

Chips and compatible motherboards and memory are already in the hands of the trade press, with reviews expected to drop as soon as the embargo lifts on November 4th. Ian Cutress is one of those reviewers, and provides a look inside Intel and MSI's press kits sent to reviewers.

German extreme overclocker and YouTuber “der8auer” is also reviewing the chip and managed, by a fat finger, to blow up his i9-12900K CPU. He took the opportunity to remove the lid and take a look inside, evaluating the physical construction of the packaging and its suitability for direct die cooling for power-mad overclockers.

And, by the way, if you think overclocking is some kind of outré activity undertaken by gamers with an excess of time on their hands and a shortage of common sense, did you know that Intel publishes a document titled “How to Overclock Your Unlocked Intel® Core™ Processor” and even provides a free “Extreme Tuning Utility” to aid in the process?

Posted at 13:58 Permalink

CONTEXT: Dinosaurs—The True Story

How's that space program coming along?

Posted at 13:05 Permalink


John McCarthy's 1960 paper, “Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I” [PDF, reproduction of original], which introduced the LISP programming system, was a stunning achievement in the history of computing. McCarthy proved that with only a minimal set of functions and linked lists, it was not only possible to evaluate any computable function (Turing completeness), but that there was no distinction between programs and data—programs could manipulate themselves as easily as they could items of data. In a sense,a large part of the history of programming languages in the six decades that followed was re-inventing concepts inherent in Lisp from its origin.

In this talk from 2019 Linux conference, Kristoffer Gronlund describes LISP, demonstrates how so few primitives can have such power, and describes how it has influenced programming languages and how we think about computing over the years.

Posted at 12:33 Permalink

CONTEXT: Florida Man—NASA Administrator Clarence William Nelson on UFOs

This is an excerpt from an hour long interview on 2021-10-19 at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Scroll back to the beginning if you wish (why?) to see the whole thing.

The interviewer/host, Larry Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics, is also a prize: “Of course, Einstein believed in parallel universes. So, that's good enough for me, if Einstein believed in it, and he inspired a lot of Rod Serling's ‘Twilight Zone’s” [56:50].

Posted at 11:26 Permalink

CONTINUITY: A Dyson Sphere May Double the Lifetime of a Low Mass Star

Here is the full paper, “Evolutionary and Observational Consequences of Dyson Sphere Feedback” [PDF].

Posted at 10:46 Permalink

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

TRACKING WITH CLOSEUPS: Starship Mars Missions Before Refuelling on Mars

SpaceX's plans for an Earth-Mars transportation infrastructure assume the ability to refuel Starships on Mars with methane and oxygen propellant manufactured from resources on Mars (carbon dioxide and water, plus electricity generated from solar or nuclear power), a process called “in-situ resource utilisation” (ISRU). But first the propellant plant has to be delivered to Mars, so initial Starship missions will necessarily be one-way, at least until the plant they deliver has produced sufficient fuel to permit them to return. Marcus House looks at the logistics of this, including the mass budget for a solar powered propellant plant.

Posted at 13:22 Permalink

CONTEXT: How Virtual Worlds Work—Part 5, Ownership of Virtual Objects

Posted at 12:55 Permalink

CONTINUITY: Avi Loeb: “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?”

In his 1999 book, The Life of the Cosmos, Lee Smolin suggested that the reason the universe appeared to be so fine-tuned for complexity and life was what he termed “cosmic natural selection”, in which new baby universes were born during the formation of black holes, each with physical properties that differed from their parent universe due to quantum uncertainty. Universes in which, for example, star formation was impossible would have no progeny and die out, and those that collapse to a single black hole would create only one child universe. Only those in which the initial conditions allowed the formation of massive stars would produce a multitude of black holes, and these would come to dominate the population of universes. But the massive stars that end up as black holes are the prerequisite for creating the heavy elements which are necessary to form planets and living beings. So, we shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves in a universe which appears to have been fine tuned to create the requirements for our form of life.

Now, Harvard astronomy professor Avi Loeb proposes an even more breathtaking speculation in a Scientific American opinion piece, “Was Our Universe Created in a Laboratory?”. Loeb argues that an advanced technological civilisation, which he calls “Class A”, will eventually develop the capability, perhaps by manipulating dark matter and dark energy, or via some means we haven't yet imagined, to perform the ultimate experiment—creating baby universes. If they can control the physical parameters of these universes, they would naturally fine tune them so they would, in turn, eventually produce their own Class A inhabitants. The process of natural selection would, then, operate on the scale of the multiverse, with universes that never produce a Class A civilisation producing no progeny, while those that eventually evolve Class A civilisations are fruitful and proliferate.

Loeb considers humanity at present a Class C civilisation, as we are unable to re-create a habitat for ourselves when the Sun dies. “A class B civilization could adjust the conditions in its immediate environment to be independent of its host star. A civilization ranked class A could recreate the cosmic conditions that gave rise to its existence, namely produce a baby universe in a laboratory.”

Posted at 11:28 Permalink

CONTEXT: Albert Einstein and his Flying Car

This sequence was filmed on the Warner Brothers special effects stage at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles during a Einstein's visit to California in 1931. It has been colourised and re-processed to 4K, 60 frames per second video.

Einstein was not only a film star, but also an inventor. Just a few months earlier, he and Leo Szilard were granted U.S. patent 1,781,541 for the Einstein-Szilard Refrigerator.

Posted at 10:43 Permalink

Tuesday, October 26, 2021



SCANALYZER is moving. After 2021-10-31 (Hallowe'en!), SCANALYZER is moving to the new SCANALYST site, a Discourse-based discussion forum which will publish all of the current content from SCANALYZER and allow members to comment, discuss, and write their own posts on any topic that interests them.

All content posted at SCANALYZER since 2021-10-04 has been mirrored at SCANALYST, so if you follow this site, just change your bookmark to read all of the same content and more there. If you like what you see, sign up to comment and share your own posts with a like-minded community. SCANALYST has no subscription fees, no advertising, and requires no personal information other than a valid E-mail address to confirm your sign-up. We will never knowingly disclose any personal information about users. Almost all posts at SCANALYST, and every one in the SCANALYZER categories, are readable regardless of whether you sign up or not. If you sign up, you can comment and write your own posts.

SCANALYST is a forum for civilised conversation. Other than momentary lapses of reason, disruptive or abusive behaviour will result in immediate exclusion from commenting or posting at the site without possibility of appeal. There's already too much coarseness in today's world: we don't need any more.

If this sounds like something in which you'd like to participate, just visit the site, click “Sign Up” at the top right, and jump in.

I hope to welcome many readers of this site to SCANALYST.

Posted at 13:27 Permalink