If the Night + Number
Eight Equals Infinity

A completely unscientific survey shows that, in some languages, the word night is made up by the letter ‘N’ and the number eight. Thus, eight night, in English, ocho noche, in Spanish, huit nuit, French, acht nacht, German, otto notte, Italian, oito noite, Portuguese.
Given that N is the mathematical symbol of infinite, and eight also means the same, those who pay attention to that sort of thing (conspiracists?) believe that night must have something to do with the void, the end, the dark. Which seems obvious. Or not. Whatever.
It’s all coincidence, say those who need a bit more of scientific basis before jumping into Philology assumptions. That list of languages, they say, which also should include Hindi (aat raath), are all derived from the Indo-European branch, so they are all related. Bummer.
And then, of course, they proceed to demolish the argument by mentioning all the hundreds of other languages in which the words night and eight have no way of knowing anything about each other, so to speak. Linguists of all accents were ecstatic, and so were everyone who simply can’t stand another pseudo Synchronicity.
No wonder so many tongues are disappearing. By the way, the fact that many false theories percolating the Internet these days would be easily dismissed if more of us would’ve paid a bit more attention in school is just a small consolation. In this case, however, is also a bit sad.
That’s because the theory was so elegant, we’d have loved if it’d make any sense. Even as it doesn’t, the implicit imagery of the flawed link between the word, which rules when the sun is away, and the number that’s essentially two stacked up zeroes, soothes our jaded minds.

Is it the fact that, squeezed in there somewhere, there’s also the concept of slumber, dreaming, and even the Big Sleep itself, with its closing of the eyes and cessation of all possible senses? Or is just our own grey matter, again playing the tricks it learned once it no longer relied on its Reptilian past?
We’d add two other, completely unrelated and also as unscientific as they come, arguments to justify if not the illusory link, then our own volition to go along with it: one, we’re lazy. Secondly, we’ve been searching for a (noble?) excuse to publish these three amazing pictures. Yes, there you have it.
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The Earth at Night (top), a cloud-free composite picture that NASA has put together out of over 400 satellite images of nighttime lights, has become one of the space agency’s most downloaded images, and that’s saying a lot. It was originally compiled to ‘study weather around urban areas.’
Greg GibbsCapturing the Night (middle) shows the Milk Way rising over the Australian horizon, next to the Magellanic Clouds. It’s part of a collection of stunning pics of the night sky, whose inspiration dates back to the Comet Halley’s second visit to the 20th century, in 1986.

Jason Hatfield‘s Exploring the Night depicts our home galaxy rising above a hiker, him, and the Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, as sole witnesses. The proportion between observers and the observed is almost accurate. The shot was a Smithsonian‘s annual contest finalist.
We could’ve called this post Below the Horizon, or Why Not Talk About Nine, or even Why Six Is So Afraid of Seven. But they all would skim over what the night does to every living being, and the tides, and nature itself. Also, they all ignore something else entirely: the Moon.
But as for the infinite, we really know nothing about it.

(*) Originally published on March 3, 2013.


Curtain Raiser

High Noon at the Amazon, Colltalers

In theory, natural disasters affect everyone equally. In reality, those with means escape unscathed, at least for now, and may even benefit from nature’s fury, while the majority is left to fend for themselves. Once again, have-nots foot the expensive bill for the whims of those at the top.
Man-made climate change, and its hurricanes, flooding, and wild fires, is a result of lifestyles dictated by so-called masters of the universe. But it’s the poor and indigenous people who’ll pay the price with their lives. In the Amazon, however, there’s a rush to speed up this process.
In fact, life expectation in the jungle hasn’t improved much since colonial times. And while painfully aware that survival in the inner cities of the world is often a matter of luck, in the largest Rainforest, the season for hunting and exterminating natives has never really been out.
Still, the recent, and deeply disturbing, report about an uncontacted tribe that may have been massacred by men working for illegal miners in the Amazon is a big, bloody-red flag. The still unconfirmed attack may signal a new level of brutality in the ongoing war between indigenous peoples and those determined to raze the forest for profit, regardless of consequence. Worse: the Brazilian government is part of the problem.
Apparently, the killing was casually boasted by the perpetrators themselves, during a binge at a local watery hole. It was reported that they had objects that could be tribal, but impunity and accessibility issues may prevent, or at least delay, having any clarity about what happened.
The alleged victims, as many as ten indians, may’ve belonged to a tribe first sighted from above just a few years ago. Photos of them waving threateningly bows, arrows and spears at Continue reading

Farewell Dive

Cassini Bids Bye Bye With Last
Jump Into the Rings of Saturn

The spacecraft that’s been orbiting Saturn for the past 13 years, is executing its final dive today. It’ll be a grand finale, fireworks and all, as it’ll crash while taking the last of thousands of pictures and videos it already took from the ringed giant.
It was a risky triumph for NASA, for the $3.4 billion, plutonium-powered probe swung up close by us, in 1999, to use Earth’s gravity to shoot up towards Saturn. A mishap could’ve been disastrous, but it was worth: we’ve learned so much with the little probe that will die today.
These expensive and far-reaching missions always prompt questions as to their validity. It’s no different with Cassini. Many doubted its science, and to some politicians its cost-to-dividend ratio could never be compared to, say, another monstrous taxpayer-funded sports arena.
Since it’s hard to quantify the exact impact Cassini‘s will have on our knowledge – apart from, well, so much more than we knew before -, projects like these may be on their way out. While it traveled to Saturn, nanotechnology, for instance, experienced a quantum leap.
Advances in computer science and robotics, as well as the entry of private enthusiasts in the field of space exploration, may assign a different role to organizations such as NASA, and the European and Italian space agencies, that collaborated to make the Cassini project an astounding success.

For, however be that as it may, the orbiter, and its hitch-hiker, the Huygens lander, dropped on Titan in 2005, represent a staggering milestone. Its secrets will still challenge us long after everyone alive now is gone. That, by the way, is the only form of immortality that makes sense.
It’s the part when space as a metaphor to the human adventure on this planet resounds the most transcendental. That’s how Italian Giovanni Domenico Cassini, and Dutch Christiaan Huygens, both mathematicians, remain alive and even more relevant today than during their XII century existences.
The Cassini journey has also an added benefit: allowing mankind to witness a complete cycle, which started (more)
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Curtain Raiser

May the Storms Boost Action, Colltalers

While three hurricanes parade destruction and mayhem through the Caribbean and southern parts of the U.S., a pervasive and irresponsible point keeps being highlighted on media coverage: not ‘all’ is caused by climate change. It’s not a relevant point, just an old diversion tactic.
It’s a way to sow doubt to dilute resolve, and focus on effect rather than causes. Climate deniers, just like gun advocates and war enthusiasts, like to weaponize misery to preserve the ignorant status quo. Perhaps it’s time to restate the few reasons climate is changing. Because it is.
Those arguing to the contrary are not trying to have an enlightening discussion, only to fuel millions of gigabytes already wasted on Internet trolling. And the end result is always the same: to rehash debunked talking points floated by interests financially invested into the matter.
For despite being discredited since the 1980s by the scientific community, like zombies, those foolish arguments keep popping up on Google on equal footing to serious research. Even as many now know that they were planted mostly by the fossil fuel industry, many still don’t.
This thing is, science in itself can’t be settled for good, at least not in a way that prevents us from learning more about the natural world. But we wouldn’t be able to navigate life if so much scientific knowledge hadn’t been proven right enough to support it. In other words, there’s a lot still left to learn about evolution, germs, or gravity. But what we already know is enough to save us, mainly by standing clear from them.
Thus, to argue that climate change can’t completely explain why natural disasters have been harsher, and records of seawater levels are being broken year after year, is a discussion better suited to lab research. To use it to distract and, ultimately, sabotage immediate action is, well, immoral. We can’t wait till we know all that there’s to know about gravity, before advising people that jumping off heights will kill them.
So why should we wait until coastal lines and islands become flooded and inhabitable, as it just happened in Central America, before joining global efforts to reverse causes for what is already happening in the first place? The president may’ve not realized that some of his expensive properties were vulnerable to storms, before withdrawing from the Paris Accord. But either way, he can afford to rebuild them. Most can’t.
Somehow though, it’d be naive to think that such small risk were not part of his grand equation, of giving his friends in the oil and gas and coal industries a free ride, in exchange for their financial backing. But in the end, even the U.S. president can’t deny the reality, not for long.
He will, though, be seen by history as part of the problem. And may have to answer the heartbreaking consequences of his Continue reading

Robbers Like Us

The (Bad) Cons That Men Do
& One Hell of a Clever Woman

If opportunity breeds the thief, con men are born ready. Any seasoned pro will describe an one-trick pony like it’s the Mona Lisa. Or sound it as if it’s rocket science. Just keep an eye on your wallet. Few get away with it, though. For every Ronald Biggs, who robbed a train in 1963, and spent his life in Rio, there’s Andy Thoothmans, who broke into a Kentucky store and came out naked, covered in peanut butter.
There’s the Parachute Jumper, the unknown daredevil who jumped off a plane over the Pacific Northwest in 1971, with a lot of cash. And there’s João dos Santos, caught opening a banking account with a Jack Nicholson picture ID. Still, none is in 
Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramseys’ league. She made us all proud turning tables on the notorious brotherhood of Nigerian scammers, by swindling one out of $30,000.

The sudden urge to raid Colltales files for this old post was prompted by the arrest of Geddel Vieira Lima, a former Brazilian government official and personal ally to President Michel Temer. As it goes, he’d had hidden a record breaking $16 million in cash.
Far from the sharpest tool in Temer’s circle, he released a tearful self-produced video. Not to explain the dough, but to thank cops for finding it, because, poor soul, he’d ‘forgotten’ where on earth he’d stashed it.
Fact is, in all crafts, there are highly-skillful artists and ridiculously inept blunderers who’d do everybody a favor switching professions. Point taken. But if you rob people for a living, while keep failing at it so spectacularly, a simple change of trade may not be enough to get you anywhere.
It’s another story for those who succeed. Even when they’ve never heard of Victor Lustig and his 10 Commandments for Con Artists, those are the ones who show a particular streak of sociopathology as to make them both incredibly talented at deceiving everyone around, and often times, very likable chaps too.

Some professions are actually text-book examples of such double standard. Wall Street is full of financial wizards whose amorality and disregard for rules are routinely rewarded with obscene personal wealth. Politicians and security experts too, with the added aspect that they can be either legit or criminal or both. And technology hackers are always looking for opportunities within the industries they hack.
Such is the nature of the beast, that often society is eager to incarcerate the inept and reward the clever. Persecute the meek but let the friend-of-a-friend walk. Go after the messenger but ignore (more)
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Curtain Raiser

The ‘Act of God’ Card, Colltalers

Hurricane Harvey has been a nightmare, and that’s an understatement. With still increasing casualties, record amounts of rainfall, immediate material destruction, and expected long-term economic costs and disruption, there aren’t many ways to overstate its impact and devastation.
It was also somehow predictable, and much of its tragic aftermath could’ve been at least minimized, had a few perfectly rational decisions been made in time. Worse, it’s already possible to foresee what it’s likely to follow it, even before another one just like it hits us again.
The first thing that jumps out of what’s been the first natural disaster faced by the Trump administration, is its staggering level of denial about the evidence of what’s happening. No, Harvey was not caused by climate change; but the unusual length of time it took to cross Texas is.
The southern part of the state has been heating up faster than other U.S. regions, already breaking record high temperatures monthly, just as it’s happening in the whole planet. Warmer air can hold more moisture, that is, rainfall and floods. And that, in turn, heavily taxes any city’s drainage systems. In the case of the U.S.’s fourth-largest, Houston, such factors conspired to cause the current perfect storm conditions.
Such increased hot air is caused in great part by the warming of sea waters, enough to melt millennium-old glaciers all over the world. Water levels along Texas’ coast, for instance, have been rising by almost two inches per decade, according to EPA data (when it used to do its job).
Arctic sea ice has declined steadily in the past 30 years, and it has set another record low for the third consecutive year, said the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Just last week, a Russian tanker was able to sail across the pole without an ice breaker for the first time ever.
Let’s not get into the geopolitical underside of that crossing right now, which in itself, should be cause for utmost concern. What seems truly alarming is the potentially catastrophic implications of having a commercial oil route across one of the most pristine regions of the world.
Going back to Texas, two other bad man-made decisions contributed to the tragedy: one, Houston’s lack of zoning Continue reading

New York Bites

One Bridge For Sale, the Train
Savant & the Churchyard Sheep

Self-confidence is the New York currency. That’s why stories about the city and its citizens are borderline hyperbolical, lest no one be accused of being meek. No wonder; with 27,000 people per square mile, one needs all the distinction they can muster. Even if involves tall tales.
At least, eight million of them, as the 1948 classic Naked City claimed. Then as now, all are outstanding. Heard the one about selling the Brooklyn Bridge? Or the guy who went to prison for stealing the subway dozens of times? But fear not, the sheep are coming back to town.
Big Apple; city that never sleeps; top of the heap. New Yorkers are so fed up with slogans, sobriquets, and movies about their town being destroyed. Specially since it’s now far from the lawless wasteland some still expect from it. Just don’t try to sell cat hair, of course.
But urban myths about sewer alligators, or rats the size of cats, die hard. And so does the belief that residents are rude – they’re not, Ok? gotta a problem with that? – or getting rich just by mining the streets. The thing is, the real New York stories are much better than these.
So, yes, you hear this place is the greatest of this and greatest of that, and self aggrandizing is a competitive sport. But you’d better back up what you say or you’ll get your behind kicked before you can say, trump. As for that orange sleazyball, don’t worry: we’re working on it.

Speaking of con men, and dealers who can’t close a deal, there’s a New Yorker who truly may’ve been the greatest of them all, or at least, one of the first of a long line of pretenders and liars: George C. Parker. Yes, he did ‘sell’ the Brooklyn Bridge at the turn of the 19th century.
Not once, but twice a week, for 30 years. He was not the only one to try, but seemed to have beaten the competition. His scheme even inspired the Mae West‘s 1937 vehicle, Every Day’s a Holiday. By then, no fraudsters of that ilk were still alive, only their legacy.
It’s survived to this day in the Nigeria‘s sudden riches Internet hoax, and, somehow, in the U.S. presidency. The set up, and the bill of goods involved, may change, but two core elements are still around: snake oil salesmen, and the gullibility of get-rich-quick believers.

Darius McCollum may be many things: impersonator, trespasser, lawbreaker. He also has Asperger’s syndrome, and his feats flared up New Yorkers’ imagination – hey, his train was always on schedule. But one place he does’t belong to: Rikers Island.
And yet, he’s spent half of his 52 years in prisons like that. His deed: invading the subway system and conducting the train, without working for MTA. Or missing a stop. He did that many times since he was 15, and also tried his able hands on LIRR trains and a Greyhound bus.
Many believed he should’ve gotten the job that’d have saved him. Instead, the agency with an ugly record running NYC (more)
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