Friday, May 29, 2009

I'm just going to pass this along...

Interesting post over on Deltoid:

A Taxonomy of Delusion

It actually echoes something by John Quiggin, linked in the post. I presented Deltoid because of what it says about the lovely liar Patrick Michaels.

I like these two parts of Quiggin's piece:

"Second, there are rightwingers in the US and other countries (including Australia) where the political right derives most of its thinking from the US. The basic motivation is the same, except the animus is directed towards liberals (in the US sense) and leftists in general, rather than environmentalists specifically. Members of this group are notable for an obsessive focus on Al Gore: some seem to think that an An Inconvenient Truth and not, say, the thousands of pages of IPCC reports, is the primary document in the case for action on climate change." [Yup, I know the type. That's why reading climate change posts on FreeRepublic provides such amusement and merriment and why there's no point in ever trying to engage the idiots over there.]

and this part:

"Fourth, there are irresponsible contrarians, exemplified by Richard Lindzen. The typical contrarian is skilled enough in argument to maintain a weak position, and successful enough in their own field (often tangentially relevant to the issue at hand) to have an inflated view of their own intelligence. And they prefer confuting the conventional wisdom (to their own satisfaction) to giving serious consideration to the views of experts on subjects where there own knowledge is limited."

Most recently, this group added to its ranks astronauts Harrison Schmitt (also a geochemist and a Senator, which astounds me) and Walt Cunningham. I'd really, really, really, really, really... let me say again... REALLY like to get behind closed doors with Jack and figure out how a Harvard-trained geochemist (a Ph.D. in geology!!!) could be such a dunderhead. I mean, he's reputed to have said this:

"Schmitt said historical documents indicate average temperatures have risen by 1 degree per century since around 1400 A.D., and the rise in carbon dioxide is because of the temperature rise."

There's about nine different ways to show why that's wrong, and Schmitt probably learned enough in college to understand at least four of them. I mean, believe it or not, Schmitt took classes from Robert M. Garrels. Good lord!

Yeah, I posted this in a comment on The Loom. But it bears repeating. And pondering. I don't know if I'll ever meet up with Schmitty, but I sure do wish I'd get the chance. I'd hate to think he's just, essentially, a Tribalist.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Polluters paying for their transgressions -- maybe

Climate change: Progress seen on funding problem

"The so-called Major Economies Forum (MEF) advanced on one of the key issues troubling negotiations for a new global treaty due to be crafted in Copenhagen in December, they said. "We made progress on a major subject, which is finance and financial architecture. It's not final, but one feels that there is a real consensus," said French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo at the end of the two-day MEF meeting."

And more...

"But developing and industrialised economies are far apart about how much money should be raised to help poor countries most exposed to the impacts of changing weather patterns. Another stumbling block is how far countries will vow to cut their emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases in the coming decades. Scientists say swingeing reductions are needed to stave off potential catastrophe. Both Borloo and [U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd] Stern said the MEF environment ministers showed interest in a so-called "Green Fund" proposed by Mexico last year. Contributions to the fund would be based on a country's gross domestic product (GDP) and its share of the world's carbon pollution.

"I don't have any objections to it," said Stern.

"We have to go through the details of it and look at it carefully so I am not signing on to every jot and tittle, but (we thought it was) a general good idea and a highly constructive contribution."

There's more -- countries arguing about essentially who's promising deeper emissions cuts that won't happen -- but I'll leave that to another thyme.

By the way, if you're wondering (like I was) what "swingeing" meant, it means:
"To punish with blows; thrash; beat." So in this context I guess it means "punishing" or "brutal".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

These caught my eye

I'm certainly not the first to find articles on the Web, so this one has already been blogged about in better environs than mine. But it's still interesting to show off my multivarious, multi-faceted interests and broad-ranging personality, so thus I will post the link.

Scientists Announce Top 10 New Species

Intro: "The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and an international committee of taxonomists - scientists responsible for species exploration and classification - have announced the top 10 new species described in 2008. On the list are a pea-sized seahorse, caffeine-free coffee and bacteria that live in hairspray. The top 10 new species also include the very tiny (a snake just a slither longer than 4 inches or 104 millimeters), the very long (an insect from Malaysia with an overall length of 22.3 inches or 56.7 centimeters) the very old (a fossilized specimen of the oldest known live-bearing vertebrate) and the very twisted (a snail whose shell twists around four axes). Rounding out this year's list are a palm that flowers itself to death, a ghost slug from Wales and a deep blue damselfish."

I found a couple of pictures of the strangies:

Barbados threadsnake:

Twisted snail (note that a live one has not been found yet):

Ghost slug (National Geographic says it's a "flesh-eating" ghost slug; it eats worms, not people):

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Speaking of successful dangerous NASA missions

Thanks to SciGuy for the transcript of the safe return of the Atlantis mission from the successful repair (with no need for a rescue mission) of the Hubble Space Telescope:

Live Chat: Return of Space Shuttle Atlantis

For those of us paying attention

"Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" has a brief appearance by Clint Howard, playing a Mission Control staffer in the Air and Space Museum (I don't think a mockup of Mission Control is a real display at the museum, though). You can see part of his appearance here in a behind-the-scenes clip:

Have You Cine: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

The cleverness of this is that he played a character looking similar, but not quite as old, in "Apollo 13", directed by his brother Ron. Here's what he looked like in that:

The real cleverness of this is that there is a piece of actual Apollo 13 memorabilia at the Smithsonian, and it's not a part of the spacecraft. It's this:

What is this?

Vest, Apollo 13

I sure hope that was intentional, because if it was, it was really clever. If it wasn't, it was a very nice coincidence. I tend to think the former. I wonder if anybody can confirm that the screenwriters or producers or directors made this connection?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Short science bits

Just a couple of short science bits for today:

Bird Songs Change with the Landscape

"When the going gets rough, the tough apparently sing slower. As vegetation reclaimed formerly cleared land in California, Oregon and Washington over the last 35 years, male white-crowned sparrows have lowered their pitch and slowed down their singing so that their love songs would carry better through heavier foliage. "This is the first time that anyone has shown that bird songs can shift with rapid changes in habitat," says biologist Elizabeth Derryberry who made the finding as part of her dissertation research at Duke University.

She compared recordings of individual birds in 15 different areas with some nearly forgotten recordings made at the same spots in the 1970s by a California Academy of Sciences researcher, and found that the musical pitch and speed of the trill portion of the sparrows' short songs had dropped considerably."


And since we're speaking of monitoring foliage:

Key NPOESS Sensor Starts Thermal Vacuum Testing

"The Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) flight unit was placed in a thermal vacuum chamber, where it will be subject to the extreme hot and cold cycles typical of the space environment to determine its flight worthiness. Thermal vacuum testing will be conducted over nearly 100 days to ensure the sensor will operate in space as designed. ...... "VIIRS will collect data on atmospheric conditions, Earth radiation, ocean color and surface temperature in nearly two dozen spectral bands, with high spatial resolution. VIIRS will produce operational data in color instead of black and white, enabling military and civilian users to distinctly see features such as aircraft contrails and dust storms that are challenging to detect with current sensors."

It's about time, considering that this program is already roughly $6-7 billion dollars over budget and somewhere around 3-5 years behind schedule. But who's counting?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Clinton vs. Gore

In case you weren't paying attention, Bill Clinton is playing catch-up to Al Gore in the environmental activism field. I don't think he'll ever win a Nobel Prize, but he was once the most powerful man in the world, so he may not worry about it.

Clinton tells world city chiefs to act swiftly to save planet

Some parts of the article:
"Former US President Bill Clinton Tuesday urged leaders of the world's cities, which produce over two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, to act swiftly to save the planet for their grandchildren."

"The former US leader, whose Clinton Climate Initiative develops programmes to help cities cut the emissions blamed for global warming, called for commitments and concrete action at the meeting which ends Thursday."

"Half the world's population lived in cities last year and that figure is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2050", said Clinton, citing UN statistics. "Cities occupy just two percent of the world's land mass yet are responsible for more than two-thirds of global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions."

The issue of how cities "find a way to continue to thrive and prosper while reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the central questions in the whole struggle," Clinton told a press conference earlier.

Clinton Climate Initiative

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cascades climatology indicates melting, despite views of canned climatologist

Seems to me that there was a climate change denier state meteorologist who got canned for being dumb on this issue, and then got all huffy about it.

Yes, yes, yes. Here it is, and here's the dispute in all its ragged glory:

Associate State Climatologist Fired for Exposing Global Warming Myths

I'll try to excerpt to get to the pith of the myths:

"University of Washington climate scientist Mark Albright was dismissed on March 12 from his position as associate state climatologist, just weeks after exposing false claims of shrinking glaciers in the Cascade Mountains. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (D) had asserted in a February 7 Seattle Times editorial, "the average snow pack in the Cascades has declined 50 percent since 1950 and will be cut in half again in 30 years if we don't start addressing the problems of climate change now." Albright knew from his research that the Cascade Mountains snow pack had not declined anywhere near what Nickels asserted, and that the snow pack has actually been growing in recent years."

Skip down to where it gets interesting:

"Albright noted in his emails the current snow pack is only marginally lower than the long-term average since 1943. Moreover, the Cascade Mountains snow pack has been growing since the late 1970s. Albright's emails were particularly embarrassing to Philip Mote, the Washington state climatologist. Mote had become well-known within the scientific community through his work documenting an asserted decline in Cascade Mountain glaciers. In late February, [noted] University of Washington atmospheric scientist Dennis Hartmann agreed to referee the brewing dispute."

After reviewing the data, Hartmann concluded on February 22, "While some stations show a 50 percent downward trend in April 1 snow water equivalent between 1950 and present, we believe the overall observed trend for the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon is smaller. "One set of observations using all of the Cascade mountain stations in Washington State ... from 1945 until the present shows a snow water equivalent decrease of about 30 percent," Hartmann noted. "If an earlier starting date is chosen, the trend is smaller, but the number of stations available before 1945 is relatively small and their average altitude is high."

Subsequent to this review, Albright kept sending out emails telling other people his assessment of the Cascade snow pack. Mote told him to pass the emails through him first, as his supervisor. Albright didn't. Mote fired him. CENSORSHIP! cried the denier community.

Hartmann, on the other hand, was probably troubled by the uncertainty. So he did what good professors do, I'm guessing: he put a grad student on the case.

Guess what!?

Warming Climate Is Affecting Cascades Snowpack

"There has been sharp disagreement in recent years about how much, or even whether, winter snowpack has declined in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon during the last half-century. But new research leaves little doubt that a warmer climate has a significant effect on the snowpack, as measured by water content on April 1, even if other factors keep year-to-year measurements close to normal for a period of years."

Skipping down:

"All things being equal, if you make it 1 degree Celsius warmer, then 20 percent of the snowpack goes away for the central Puget Sound basin, the area we looked at," said Joseph Casola, a University of Washington doctoral student in atmospheric sciences. That means that even in years with normal or above-normal snowfall, the snowfall probably would have been even greater except for climate warming."

[Note that Casola is a grad student in atmospheric sciences, Hartmann's specialty.]

Now it gets really interesting, because first Casola confirms what Albright was saying:

"Annual snowfall variability makes it difficult to plot a meaningful trend, Casola said. Starting in a year with high snow accumulation will imply a significant decrease over time, while starting in a year with average or low snow totals will imply little change or even an increase. So, for example, measuring from 1944 to 2005 shows just a slight decline in snowpack but changing the starting year to 1950 more than triples the decline. However, the measurements also show a slight increase in the last 30 years, a period of significant climate warming. That is probably because trend measurements include declines from climate warming as well as increases and decreases from other factors."

So, skipping down some more, what's the summary and conclusion? Albright right, or Alwrong?

"The new research used four different methods to examine decades-long records of water contained in Cascades snowpack in the central Puget Sound basin on April 1 of each year. Scientists used simple geometry to estimate temperature sensitivity of snowpack, made detailed analysis of seasonal snowpack and temperature data, used a hydrological model to examine the data, and analyzed daily temperature and precipitation measurements to estimate water content of snowpack on April 1.

"If you assume precipitation is the same every year and look at the effects of temperature alone, all the ways we examined the data converge at about a 20 percent decline in snowpack for each degree Celsius of temperature increase," said Casola.

He [Casola] is lead author of a paper detailing the work, part of his doctoral thesis, which is being published online May 14 in Journal of Climate, published by the American Meteorological Society. Co-authors, all from the UW, are Lan Cuo, Ben Livneh, Dennis Lettenmaier, Mark Stoelinga, Philip Mote and John M. Wallace.

[No Hartmann; he must have recused himself.]

So the real "bottom line" is that to have an increase in the snowpack when it's getting warmer, you have to have more snow. And even if there's more snow, there's less snow than there would have been if it wasn't as warm. Which means that under virtually every climate scenario for the next 30 years, the Cascades snowpack will get smaller. Which is what the mayor said. Which is what Albright statistically asserted was wrong, because his trend was smaller based on a different starting date.

All of which makes perfect sense to me. Can't wait for the rebuttal statements from Albright. They should get picked up by all the denier mouthpieces. Guess I'll have to stay tuned and see watt's up.

You know you're in England when...

You know you're in England when...

news articles make references to the TV show "Thunderbirds".

I was a "Thunderbirds" fan as a kid. Yes, now you should be able to compute my approximate age with Wolfram Alpha. It was an amazing show for the technology available for special effects in the 1960s. A few years ago they started reshowing reruns in the UK, and there was a great nostalgia boom of T-bird fans. For awhile they even showed them over here.

Anyhow, this article takes about a new submarine from innovative designer Graham Hawkes:

Water way to travel! Super winged submersible that 'flies' through the ocean unveiled

Here's a picture:

And here's the section of the article that caught my attention:

"The Super Falcon Submersible, which resembles Thunderbird 4, can reach depths of 1,500 feet and speed through the ocean at six knots, which is nearly seven miles per hour. It has a range of around 25 nautical miles.

Created by British inventor Graham Hawkes for Hawkes Ocean Technologies, it is the newest and most advanced sub of their Deep Flight series and the culmination of four generations of experimental prototypes."

Thunderbird 4? Sacrilege! This is Thunderbird 4:

Thunderbird 4 is way, way, cooler.

But I'd still like to drive a Super Falcon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Notes on watersports, frozen and unfrozen

Notes on water sports, frozen:

Four teams left in the Stanley Cup finals; here's the recent history on each:

Detroit Red Wings: Last Cup in last year! (also last Cup final); Cups since 1960: 4 (all since 1996)

Pittsburgh Penguins: Last Cup in 1992; last Cup final in last year!; Cups since 1960: 2

Carolina Hurricanes: Last Cup in 2006; last Cup final in 2006; Cups since 1960: 1, three seasons ago.

Chicago Blackhawks: Last Cup in 1961; last Cup final in 1973; Cups since 1960: 1, in 1961!

I sure know who I'm rooting for. But Detroit is so darned good, it's going to be tough for the Blackhawks.

Notes on water sports, unfrozen:

Looking over the results of the Charlotte UltraSwim:

17-year old phenom North Dakotan Dagny Knutson made her mark in the 200- and 400- meter freestyle and the 200- and 400-meter IM (and we're going to need something special in the middle distance freestyles to take on the Brits). Dagny looks like the woman's swimmer of the meet; she was also 4th in the 200 meter fly. That's a tough program.

A 15-year old (Amanda Reason) won the 100-meter breaststroke (and we need some power here, too). OK, I guess we need another teenage breaststroker named Amanda now that Amanda Beard is presently preggers.

On the men's side:

Phelps showed why he was on the men's 400-meter relay in Beijing, coming in second to Fred Bousquet; he also won the 200-meter freestyle and the 100-meter butterfly.

Peter Vanderkaay had a very respectable 3:46 in the 400 meter freestyle;

Aaron Peirsol and Phelps had a nice duel in the 100-meter backstroke (Peirsol by half a second);

Nice to see Eric Shanteau continuing well (actually, spectacularly well) after testicular cancer treatment -- 2nd in the 100-meter breaststroke and winning the 200-meter breaststroke with a WHAT?! time of 2:09.71; that's only about 1.2 seconds off the American record and 2.2 seconds off Kitajima's world record -- Kosuke's got another American to think about now; (Shanteau also had a respectable 3rd in the 200 IM, though Phelps didn't swim it).

Pretty good meet. I'll have to check out more videos of it this week.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quick shots

1. Gore thinks the climate change bill is a good step forward:

Al Gore: US climate change bill a 'good start'

"It is a good start," Gore told CNN. "I think the essence of this challenge ... is to set in motion the forces of change so that we shift over to renewable energy
and start making the job-creating investments that are going to really get our economy going on a sustainable basis." He added: "Once that transition begins to shift, it will be unstoppable, because countries all over the world are beginning to do what we're beginning to do."

I think it will be amazing what the human race could accomplish if we could just GET STARTED ON IT.

2. NASA may finally have a new administrator

There seems to be a consensus on this.

Retired Major General Charles F. Bolden to be Announced as NASA's Next Administrator

Administrator Charles Bolden?

"Bolden is regarded as a quiet man but not shy. He made his first spaceflight 23 years ago, and flew on the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. Florida senator Bill Nelson flew in space with Bolden in 1986, just before the Challenger tragedy. “Charlie’s credentials are top-notch,” Nelson said. Former administrator Michael Griffin said Bolden would be “perfect” for the job."

NASA's Next Administrator - Charles F. Bolden? (as of May 16, 2009, this is still not completely done deal)

3. Amanda Beard is having a baby

Seems like only a few years ago (it was 1996) that 14-year old breaststroke specialist Amanda Beard brought a teddy bear to the medal stand when she won a pair of Olympic silver medals in Atlanta (and a relay gold). Since then, as has been pretty well chronicled, she kept at it, won bronze in Sydney and gold in Athens, as well as being tabbed as one of the most desirable women in sports, definitely one of top swimmers in that category. To confirm that status, she showed off her entire winning form in a famous men's magazine.

Now she's just got married to her former-boyfriend-and-photographer-and-soon-to-be-father, Sacha Brown, five months into a pregnancy that he apparently was involved in initiating. When I heard this, I realized I hadn't heard of him, and so I looked for him (usually finding them). The picture below shows the happy couple before marriage and baby, very likely -- and whatever is thought of Amanda's comeliness, she sure is in tip-top athletic shape. Amazing abs.

And something else fairly nice and amazing:

And in case you are interested in what Amanda looks like not wearing any fur:

Amand Beard in PETA ad

I'll repeat: amazing abs.

Have to mention: while perusing the People article about Amanda, I discovered this note:

Bachelorette Jen Schefft ties the knot in Chicago

Snuffle. (That's cuz I'm cwying.) I liked her a lot.

Friday, May 15, 2009

In case someone asks if environmental treaties work...

This is a really impressive examination of what would have happened, globally, if the Montreal Protocol controlling chlorofluorocarbons had not been enacted internationally:

World Without Ozone

Hearken back and remember that this was opposed too, notably by Washington governor Dixy Lee Ray. There's a lot of lessons to be learned here; Ray was smart (a marine biologist), and she was conservative. Did her conservatism bias her viewpoint? I don't know, but out of her field on atmospheric ozone, she was very wrong. Since she wrote books critical of the environmental movement in general, you have to wonder. (Current parallel example on climate change: Dr. Roy Spencer, but Spencer's specialty is actually in the general field of climate change).

The other thing to be realized here is that the science was compelling, and the alternative (depicted in the article) was utterly unacceptable. So realizing that humankind's actions can indeed affect the global environment (which somehow a large multitude on the conservative side still manage to cognitively dissonate out of of their thought processes), humankind managed to pass a global treaty that addressed the problem, and which truly managed to avert an unimaginable (but model-able) future.

Climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions is a tougher nut to crack because CO2 in particular is so tied to the energy demands of civilization. But were the nations of the world to act with the urgency that was exampled by the Montreal Protocol (rather than the piecemeal baby steps of a Kyoto protocol), something could actually be accomplished. But there has to be resolve; there has to be commitment; there has to be a widespread realization that the world subjected to rapid warming (catastrophic or not, serious is bad enough) is an unacceptable future for humankind.

What's it going to take to wake our collective *sses up? What's the global warming equivalent of the Antarctic ozone hole? Well, here's the deal: we need a new Arctic sea ice minimum extent during this minimal cold spell the globe is experiencing. That would be tough for the propagandists and their gullible spreaders of mistruth to explain. Much as I don't want to pray for a rapid dimunition of the vital Arctic ice cap, I can hardly think of anything else that would garner sufficient attention.

Melt, baby, melt.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shorts: Launches, debris, and smoothies

Wow, there was a lot of interesting stuff to talk about. I find with this low-traffic blog there is lots I could say; I can say almost anything knowing the limits of my reach. But still, there is lots of interesting stuff I can archive publically, so I'll just keep posting as I have chances. Enough stuff for six posts, just today. But we'll stick to space.

1. Herschel and Planck got off alright on the Ariane-5:

Here's two links to good shots of the launch. Launches are exciting, especially when they actually deliver the payload all the way into orbit! (Sorry about that, Orbiting Carbon Observatory):

Double the thrust

Ariane-5 heads skyward

2. China space debris passes near the Shubble:

Shuttle astronauts begin spacewalk to repair and upgrade Hubble (actually, the first spacewalk went well, despite a stubborn bolt), but there are much tougher tasks ahead.

"Hubble and Atlantis are flying 350 miles (563 kilometres) above the Earth. The orbit is littered with space junk, some of which led to a minor scare for NASA last night. The US Air Force noticed that a 10cm piece of space debris was on course to come close to the shuttle. Left over from the destruction of a satellite by China in 2007 during a weapon test, the debris was predicted to come within 2.7 kilometres of Atlantis."

3. Anti-oxidants in smoothies not as healthy as thought, but anti-oxidant foods are fine (so eat spinach and drink wine!):

Skip that post-workout smoothie

"The increased levels of free-radicals stimulates your body to take certain steps to protect itself -- like increasing insulin sensitivity. Taking those antioxidant vitamins may wipe out enough free-radicals so that threshold isn't reached. It doesn't mean the exercise isn't beneficial for other reasons, but at least in this study, the lack of free radicals appear to have reduced some of the benefit of exercise."

Here's the actual study

And here's the money quote from the actual study:

"While this remains to be determined, one metaanalysis
of previously published studies (27) suggests that high dietary
intake of fruits and vegetables, a source of antioxidants but also
of numerous other bio-active compounds, may actually decrease
the risk for type 2 diabetes. Nevertheless, and as stated by Hamer
and Chida (27), all larger intervention trials evaluating the
diabetes-preventive potential of defined antioxidant supplements
have been unable to find any positive effects of supplementation
(28–30). Moreover, antioxidant use in type 2 diabetics
has been linked to increased prevalence of hypertension (31) and
use of antioxidant supplements has recently been proposed to
increase overall mortality in the general population (32). Taken
together, these previously published findings tentatively suggest
that fruits and vegetables may exert health-promoting effects
despite their antioxidant content and possibly due to other
bio-active compounds. However, it should be noted that the
current study applied comparably high doses of oral antioxidants,
which have been tested in healthy young men only."

So the problem is the post-exercise drink. That means; stick to Gatorade after practice, and eat your fruits and veggies like you should.

OK, so in the next few days, lots of good stuff, including international bird-watching.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bleak outlook for Coral Triangle; high stakes dual telescope launch

1. Coral Triangle could die by century's end

"Rising water temperatures, sea levels and acidity are threatening to destroy the vast region of Southeast Asia known as the Coral Triangle, labelled the ocean's answer to the Amazon rainforest, the World Wildlife Fund said in a new report. Collapse of the reefs would send food production in the region plummeting by 80 percent and imperil the livelihoods of over 100 million people.Climate change could wipe out the world's richest ocean wilderness by the end of the century without drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, environmental group WWF said Wednesday."

I can't spin that in any way other than it sounds bad.

2. The Herschel and Planck telescopes to take a look deep into the past of the Universe will launch tomorrow (hopefully) on an Ariane 5. Herschel is the most powerful IR telescope ever put into space, while Planck is a step forward from COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) and WMAP (
Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) to look at the Cosmic Microwave Background. Putting two $expensive$ eggs into one launch basket always strikes me as a bit risky; remember when the confident Europeans put five Clusters on the first Ariane 5?

I certainly hope Herschel and Planck get a better ride than that. Ariane 5 has been reliable since the overconfident Cluster launch.

New European Telescopes to Peer into Obscure Cosmic Corners

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shuttle damage 'superficial'; Limbaugh fingers himself; use water wisely

1. Shuttle got dinged near the wing, but not too badly, it seems:

Shuttle damage 'looks like nothing,' NASA says

"On an initial look, it looks like nothing," [Johnson Space] center spokesman James Hartsfield said. The damage was described as a trail of dings about 21 inches long along the side of the orbiter, as though something bounced along the heat shield before flying off. NASA officials think the source could be bits of insulating foam, which were seen falling off the external fuel tank about two minutes into Monday's launch."

Saw the pictures of the dings on the news; I think they're right. I hope so.

2. Limbaugh fingers himself as responsible for lowering public concern about global warming:

"The host had a similar sentiment: "I normally don't pat myself on the back, but today global warming is an issue that has the concern of 30 percent of the American people, and years ago it was over 50 percent," he said. "That's because somebody spoke up day in and day out and said, 'This is a hoax, this is BS.' That somebody was me."

From this article in the Washington Post: The Reticence in Broadcasting Network

Much as I'd like to give Rush credit for being the number one propagandist on this issue, it probably isn't true; Rush frequently likes to overstate his importance in the public debate on a lot of issues. Public concerns about global warming have gone down as public concerns about things like jobs and the economy have significantly escalated.

However, if Rush is partly responsible for this trend, we won't forget when it becomes even more clear that global warming is an issue of serious concern for all the living beings on this planet.

3. Believe it or not, wise water use matters for food!

Better Water Use Could Reduce Future Food Crises

"An analysis by a team of Swedish and German scientists quantifies for the first time the opportunities of effectively using both "green" and "blue" water to adapt to climate change and to feed the future world population. The study was recently published in the journal "Water Resources Research".

The current approach to water management considers only blue water, that is river discharge and groundwater. According to the researchers, this limits the options to deal with increasing water scarcity and water risks induced by climate change. Under those conditions, over three billion of the current world population are estimated to suffer from severe water scarcity.

The new analysis which additionally accounts for green water, that is water in the soil that stems directly from rainfall, suggests that the actual number is under one billion. It also shows that wise water management can lift billions out of water poverty."

And they also say:

"The study presents evidence that a better use of green water can form the basis for a new green revolution. It may also provide the basis for building resilience towards more frequent and intense floods, droughts and dry spells under human-induced climate change. "We show that investments in current technologies and improved green water use can promote more robust, climate-resilient farming systems, which provide more stable food supplies," says Holger Hoff, researcher at the Potsdam-Institute for Climate Impact Research."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Oceanic biodiversity on parade; Shuttle rescue plans; No Fe for me

1. Once again, it sounds like a great idea. The problem is implementation.

Fight to save the 'Amazon of the oceans'

"The area is known as the Coral Triangle, and stretching across six nations between the Indian and Pacific oceans -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands -- it is impressive in scale. About half the size of the continental United States, the triangle is home to more than half the world's coral reefs, three-quarters of its coral species and key stocks of fish that help feed the world. "People have compared the Coral Triangle's biodiversity richness to the Amazon," said Abdul Halim, the head of The Nature Conservancy's (TNC) Coral Triangle Centre.

So let's preserve it! Problem: "About 120 million people living in the Coral Triangle depend on the seas for their livelihoods, and although they are among the greatest potential victims of the collapse of local ecosystems, they also often play the role of vandals. Spread out on thousands of islands across porous national borders, many living in impoverished communities have turned to poisoning fish with cyanide or blowing them up with dynamite, said Marthen Welly, who runs a TNC programme at Nusa Lembongan and its neighbouring islands."

Answer: "The approach of non-governmental organisations and governments has been to try to introduce alternative livelihoods and get communities on board in protecting the environment through so-called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)."

But: "But even if other areas -- which in most Coral Triangle countries tend to be much poorer -- can replicate the successes of Nusa Lembongan, the root of the problem remains with climate change and a growing global population hungry for fish, WWF's Soede said."

So thus: Eat mor chikn, ZPG, and ZEG. Seems simple, doesn't it?

2. Let's hope they don't need to:

The Hubble Rescue Mission: What Could Happen?

"If the rescue flight is required, NASA would begin the three-day countdown toward Endeavour's launch. Ferguson and his rescue crew already plan to be here at the launch site ready to fly, Moses said. Meanwhile, Altman and his crew would power down Atlantis to conserve their supplies. If the rescue mission launches within the first two or three days of the Hubble flight, Atlantis could keep its crew alive for nearly a month [Marooned scenario]. But if the damage is discovered later, during a standard late heat shield inspection, the shuttle will likely only have 16 days of air left, Altman said in an interview."

A conference of note related to the above: Space Debris and the Future of Space Flight

3. Yet more confirmation that the highly attractive geoengineering idea of ocean iron fertilization is unviable. This is a really good summary; I recommend reading the whole thing.

Iron Hypothesis Dealt a Blow

Highlight: "Bishop says these observations point to an important lesson: "Iron is not the only factor that determines phytoplankton growth in HNLC regions. Light, mixing, and hungry zooplankton are fundamentally as important as iron." The Iron Hypothesis isn't wrong, but it's much more subtle than usually stated. Achieving optimum carbon sedimentation from plankton growth may require the right "recipe" of iron and other trace nutrients to grow the right kind of phytoplankton. Says Bishop, "You can grow a lot of Brussels sprouts, but kids won't eat it. The same appears to be the case with diatom phytoplankton and zooplankton. It's the zooplankton community that determines carbon sedimentation."

More correctly, it's the poop from the zooplankton community that determines carbon sedimentation!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Megan Fox's amazing dimensions

There are numerous reports out there about Megan Fox (a very rapidly ascending starlet, primarily due to her undeniable hotness) wearing a tight... emphasis on tight... corset on the set of her in-production movie, Jonah Hex. Here's an example:

Waisting away in the wild west: Megan Fox's corset whittles her waist to just SIX inches wide

The article says: "The 22-year-old, who is set to star in the wild west-themed comic book adaptation, wore a waist-cinching corset that saw her midriff whittled down to a miniscule six inches wide at its narrowest point. The actress's usually 22-inch waist was laced into a girdle that reduced its diameter to a miniscule 18 inches."

I checked with a calculator, and this jives for a circle:

Circle and Sphere Calculator

Circumference of 22 inches corresponds to diameter of 7.0 inches.
Circumference of 18 inches corresponds to diameter of 5.73 inches.

But human torso are not even close to spherical -- they are elongate ellipses. So I used an ellipse calculator:

Ellipse Circumference Calculator

Elliptical review:

Now, the major axis of the human torso is considerably longer than the minor axis of the human torso (for a reasonally flat-tummied person; by all indications, Megan is (Sister Prudence alert!) reasonably flat-tummied). So I'm going to assume that Megan's minor waist axis is five inches. (I based this on a rough estimation that my minor waist axis is between 6 and 7 inches). So with a minor waist axis of five inches, her major waist axis -- the one that's important for statuesqueness -- comes in at about 8.5 inches to generate a 22-inch circumference.

Now the corset probably reduces the major axis more than the minor axis. So I'm going to assume a minor axis reduction of half an inch, to 4.5 inches. To get to an 18-inch circumference, that requires a major axis of 6.8 inches.

Freakish. If those dimensions are about right, when she was wearing that corset, I could almost get my hands to entirely encircle her waist, and I'm just average size. I'd sure like to try that experiment -- purely for scientific interest, of course. But the really freakish part is that Megan's waist is probably considerably narrower than six inches at its narrowest part.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Good news for bees, bad news for bears (of the polar variety)

First off, this seems like good news for domesticated pollinating honeybees, but I'm not totally sure. Given the recent bad news, mostly the troubling colony collapse disorder (upon which the biomedical sleuths have probably found a true cause, which I'll have to track down again), this seems good. But there's a problematic passage that I just don't get.

Domesticated bee numbers soar amid buzzing demand

The lead sounds good for the domesticated variety:
"The number of domesticated bees is on the rise worldwide despite declining numbers of wild honey bees in the United States and Europe, a study said Thursday.

"The honey bee decline observed in the USA and in other European countries including Great Britain, which has been attributed in part to parasitic mites and more recently to colony collapse disorder, could be misguiding us to think that this is a global phenomenon," said Marcelo Aizen of Universidad Nacional del Comahue in Argentina."

Skipping on down a bit, this then reads: "Researchers found that commercial domesticated bee hives have increased 45 percent in the past 50 years, to match growing demand for honey among a growing human population, but not necessarily for pollination purposes."

But here's the part I don't get: "But demand for other popular crops such as fruit and nuts, which do depend on pollination by bees and other insects, has tripled in the past half century, raising doubts that there are enough insects to do the task."

So the increased agricultural demand for honeybees is outstripping their reproduction rate? Seems logical -- breed more honeybees! The reports on CCD made it seem like their demise was imminent; I guess not (but the U.S. and European situation is apparently still uncertain).

Obama Administration Upholds Bush Polar Bear Rule

"Saying the Endangered Species Act is not the right tool to control global warming, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he will leave in place a special rule created by the Bush administration that limits protections for the polar bear under the Act. The polar bear was listed as threatened under the Act on May 14, 2008 because climate change is melting the species' sea ice habitat, leaving bears unable to hunt. The Bush administration imposed rule 4(d) to ensure the listing would not require new efforts to tackle global warming or put new restrictions on oil and gas development in polar bear habitat."

This has not gone over well, to put it mildly:

"The Interior Department will have to defend its position in court. The Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, and Greenpeace initiated a legal challenge to the 4(d) rule last May and today Andrew Wetzler, director of the NRDC's Wildlife Conservation Program, said the legal action will proceed."

Does the Endangered Species Act have teeth or not? Well, we should find out -- because anything that the API thinks is good for fossil fuel energy is not good for the future of Earth's environment.

"American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said, "We welcome the administration's decision because we, like Secretary Ken Salazar, recognize that the Endangered Species Act is not the proper mechanism for controlling our nation's carbon emissions. Instead, we need a comprehensive, integrated energy and climate strategy to address this complex, global challenge."

If there aren't enough incentives to change, change won't happen. The protection of the polar bear under the ESA is one way to make change happen. I hope the Obama Administration (and the W administration) lose this one.

Star Trek's Picard evinces silverback syndrome serially

It appears that Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard of Star Trek TNG, for those who don't know) is serially silverbacking; too bad he can't just have a harem, like the gorillas.

Patrick Stewart reprises his sugar daddy role as he steps out with a new flame less than half his age

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Silverback syndrome strikes again

Back when I started seriously posting on my very tiny corner of the blogosphere, I wrote this article:

What Happens Behind Closed Doors?

In this magnificent treatise, I include this commentary:
"... and that brings us to the silverback "Alpha Male" syndrome, whereby an older famous beautiful male indulges the primal urge to fertilize the young and fertile. This explains Heidi Klum and Flavio, and how Flavio was already moving on once the fertilization of Heidi had been accomplished. I could go in another direction on the whole older rich famous beautiful male and the young fertilizable female phenomenon and its genetic heritage from our ancestral Australopithecines, but I won't, except to note that Kevin Costner's current wife is SO hot."

Herewith today, further examples of the silverback syndrome:

Exhibit A
A baby on the way for Monty Python star Terry Jones and lover who's 41 years younger

which includes this comment:
"'He doesn't seem fazed by it, but everyone else is,' said a family friend who has been close to both Jones and his wife for decades. 'If anything, I think it's a classic case of male pride taking over. Getting a young filly pregnant proves there's life in the old dog yet.

Exhibit B
This is Emma Heming, newly-wed to Bruce Willis.
24 years younger than Bruce Willis.

So what's the silverback syndrome? Well, simply put, the silverback is the dominant male gorilla. He's the most successful male gorilla -- biggest, strongest -- and the main result of his recognized dominance and protective capabilities for his harem is that he gets first pick -- actually, he gets every pick -- of which females to mate with. Now, in order to have the strongest combinatorial genetics, the young female gorillas will offer themselves for mating to acquire the silverback's genes for their offspring. It's all Darwinian and such, a behavior maintain to maximize the likelihood of one's own genetic heritage being passed on to future generations.

Gorilla Social Spacing

So since we Westerners frown on polygamy, the silverbacks among us must content themselves with finding the genetically superior young females to fertilize -- and genetically superior's external characteristics tend to be quite attractive to most of us. Thus the silverback syndrome -- successful (rich) older male with genetically superior (hot) young female. The female gets the protection of the silverback's resources to favor the likelihood of survival of her offspring (which also get the silverback's genes, which should mean genetic superiority from the male side), and the silverback gets to produce offspring combining his genes with that of the genetically superior female, which garners him the genetic superiority from the female side. All very simple. And thus we gawk in amazement at Bruce with the amazingly genetically superior Emma, whilst we should not be surprised at all.

The ones that got away just aren't there any more

Back in February I posted this article:

Trophy fish now would have been bait-size decades ago

So now there's this:
Fished Out: Caribbean Sea's Big Fish Nearly Gone

"With far more detail at a greater geographic scale than any other research to date, Stallings examined 20 species of predators, including sharks, groupers, snappers, jacks, trumpetfish and
barracuda, from 22 Caribbean nations.

"I found that nations with more people have reefs with far fewer large fish because as the number of people increases, so does demand for seafood," said Stallings."

Which of course is not surprising at all.

HERE's where it gets interesting, though:

"Given that about half the world's populations live near coastlines and that the world population is growing, demands for ocean-derived protein will continue to increase, Stallings warned. He said meeting such demands while retaining healthy coral reefs may require multiple
strategies, including implementation of marine reserves, finding alternative sources of protein [Eat Mor Chikn], and increased efforts to implement family-planning strategies in densely populated areas."

I.e., less people. I.e., closer to ZPG, NPG, and steady-state rather than growth economies. I.e., global strategies for the maintenance and sustainment of global resources. I.e., global government. The drumbeat is getting louder.

I.e., lets quit calling the following activity romantic and exciting and recreational, and call it what it actually is:

Wasteful. If you want to kill something, go hunt whitetail deer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A test of remote posting: Taiwan has how many water closets?

Testing my remote posting capabilities, I was astonished at how few homes in Taiwan had sewer connections. This is one situation that really needs cleaning up.

Six-billion-dollar upgrade for Taiwan's sewers

"Only 1.12 million households, or 19.5 percent of Taiwan's households, were connected to sewerage systems at the end of 2008, government figures show."

I am not going swimming in a river on Taiwan anytime soon, I can tell you that.

Counting one's chickens before egress

NASA announced that they're going to film the final Hubble servicing mission in IMAX format for a new IMAX movie.

Remember, this is NASA's riskiest mission ever. I just think they should wait until after the mission's over before announcing how great it's going to be to see the in-space repair mission on the big screen.

IMAX-3D Camera To Film Hubble Servicing Mission

"The IMAX team has trained Atlantis' crew at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to operate the cameras. One will be mounted outside the crew cabin in the shuttle's cargo bay to capture IMAX 3-D images of the historic final servicing mission. The commander and pilot will double as filmmakers as two teams of spacewalking astronauts - working in tandem with the shuttle's robotic arm - perform some of the most challenging work ever undertaken in space as they replace and refurbish many of the telescope's precision instruments."

Well, the mission is to launch May 11. Good luck and godspeed -- and bring back that footage.

Stop making sense

Congress actually makes sense? C'mon; but this actually appears to be a plan with legs, er, wheels, and it makes sense at two levels; one, it would get the economy going in some sense, and might help lift the auto industry out of its deep minimum; two, it gets the real polluting cars (not just inefficient in terms of CO2, but the ones that spew those clouds of bluish exhaust that you hate driving through. Not to quote anything, but there have been studies of urban pollution from cars, i.e. soot, particulates, ozone-making stuff -- and 10% of the cars make 90% of that mess. Which is why some places have advocated cops carrying exhaust camera/detectors to nab the offensive clunkers.

But anyway; Congress has a plan to get clunkers off the road and get new, efficient, and less polluting cars on the road. Next step after this: ancient refrigerators:

US to push plan to swap 'clunkers' for fuel efficient cars

"One issue that has been resolved, it's called: cash for clunkers. It will allow people to take their old cars and trade them in for money that can be used for a more fuel efficient and newer car," Waxman said."

To make this work, though, the clunkers have to be traded in for SERIOUS money. You can't expect someone to take $1000 for his clunker and expect them to go out and buy a new hybrid, which at the bottom end probably start around $18,000 or so. (The 2010 Insight will start at $19,800, I found). According to another recent article, Toyota is going to try and come in a couple thousand less than that for a Yaris hybrid. The Ford Fusion hits about that range too, which could be very good for Ford.

So if someone trades in a clunker, they'd better get at least $10K for it toward a hybrid, or this plan will be DOA.

Examples of cleavage

Basal cleavage:

Cubic cleavage:

Rycroft cleavage:

Hurley cleavage:

Sorry, old joke. Let's move on...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What Steven Chu should have said

Rep. Barton presented Chu with a teachable moment; it's a shame that Chu is a physicist and not a geophysicist, because he could have basically said this:

"Representative Barton, the reason that there are oil and gas deposits in Alaska is due to plate tectonics. Because the continental plates move around, during the Mesozoic when marine organisms were deposited on the seafloor, which over millions of years slowly transformed into oil and natural gas, the oceans adjacent to Alaska were warm and tropical. There are two reasons the oceans were warm and tropical: one, the position of the continents was significantly different than in modern times, so the shape of the oceans and their circulation patterns was much different. The other reason is that during the Mesozoic Era, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were much higher than now, ranging between 1000 and 3000 parts per million, nearly 10 times more than present. This is why there was no Arctic ice cap during the Mesozoic Era. Because the continental positions and ocean circulation were so much different, no reasonable comparisons with modern-day climate conditions can be made. However, the fundamental fact that higher CO2 concentrations in past geologic eras caused the Earth's global temperatures to be considerably higher is related to the present day concern about climate change."

The Late Triassic and Early Jurassic was a critical time in Earth history representing a fundamental end member of Earth System states

Following the space debris trail

A couple more articles about space debris:

First, NASA "recalculated" the risks to the Hubble Repair Mission from space debris, i.e., a collision with something more than a dust mote or paint fleck, reducing them from 1-in-185 to 1-in-221. That certainly makes me sleep better at night. If I could enter a raffle with a 1-in-221 chance of winning a cool million bucks, I would likely lay down a Grover.

Space Debris Risk Refined for Shuttle Mission to Hubble

Note that the author of this piece is "James Dean". His movie idol namesake is not exactly the person I'd be thinking of for anti-collision advice. See the picture. And this was a low-speed crash compared to what can happen in orbit.

What are the numbers from this article? Glad you asked:

"The Department of Defense's Space Surveillance Network officially tracks more than 19,000 larger objects, from about two inches to several feet in diameter, at altitudes up to about 22,000 miles above the planet."

Here's the other one:

Space Junk Around Earth on the Rise, Experts Say

Well, gee, tell me something I haven't figured out already.

"The threat posed by orbital debris to the reliable operation of space systems will continue to grow unless the sources of space debris are brought under control," NASA's chief orbital debris scientist Nicholas Johnson told the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee in Washington, D.C."

OK, I already knew that.

"So in 29 years, the amount of space traffic has quadrupled," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Larry James, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Functional Component Command for Space."

Well, I didn't know that.

"It is clear to me that if the spacefaring nations of the world don't take steps to minimize the growth of space junk, we will eventually face a situation where low Earth orbit becomes a risky place to carry out civil and commercial space activities," said Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), the committee's chair."

OK, I figured that out already.

"Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) said that a while monitoring the space debris environment is vital, a more effective means of cleaning up the orbital junk already in space is also needed. "If you're already charting the course, all we have to do is get something up there that will knock it down," Rohrabacher said. "And that doesn't have to be something so sophisticated. Just a big bulldozer in the sky, you might say."

That's what I've been saying. We need an orbital garbage crew and a space garbage skimmer. It will get to the point of economic necessity, so I'd recommend starting the design phase now. Below is an example from Japan.

I've been thinking this made sense for a long time

Over on "Just In It for the Gold", there's a real interesting post from the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy.

Steady State Economy

As far as I can tell, the basics of this are that focusing on growth of an economy -- i.e. more people, more production, more economic activity -- as a benchmark of how well the economy is actually doing MIGHT possibly end up being a bad thing for Earthlings. This makes logical sense; if you could get to a point of ZPG (zero population growth), wouldn't the economy also get to a point of ZEG (zero economic growth)? With the same number of producers and consumers year after year after year after year after year after year ... (you get the idea), there shouldn't be a need to grrrrow, only to sustain. And that's what this group seems to be after.

They say:
"The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE)
takes a different position. The CASSE position, a document that can be
signed by individuals and endorsed by organizations, recognizes the
conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. It
proposes the steady state economy, characterized by stable population
and per capita consumption, as a desirable alternative to continued

They also say:
"Many policy changes can help us establish financial systems and an
economy that are sustainable. But the chances of enacting them are
miniscule until we can demonstrate that a broad base of the electorate
recognizes that perpetual exponential economic growth is not the path
to prosperity."

The blog author from whence I acquired this, Michael Tobis, isn't sure if he's going to sign on to their petition yet. I don't see a downside. This is one of the revolutionary positions required for real world government: put a cap on the growth of the global economy by putting limits on population and consumption.

CONSERVATION over CONSUMPTION. I'm sure that will catch on. Hah!

How about this: ZEG means not having to say you're sorry to your great-grandchildren for royally screwing things up.

Real gravity

When the moons of Saturn interact gravitically with the rings of Saturn, the rings get "gored" (no relation to the Nobel Prize winner). See for yourself in this two images.

You might have to click 'em to see the gory details.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Let's save this one

You may or may not have noticed, but the Yangtze river dolphin is probably extinct. Not a surprise, but anytime a large vertebrate species disappears, it's a noticeable loss. There are other populations of river dolphins; I imagine (without checking) that the Amazon river dolphin is probably still in pretty good shape, population-wise. According to some fairly uncertain estimate, the Ganges River Dolphin might still have a few thousand animals in its population, but the low end is 1,200 or so.

The Indus River dolphin, which is fairly similar to the Ganges, is in worse shape.

Pakistan's blind dolphins face hazardous existence

The maximum number is 1,200 or so. These are unique animals -- plus they're cute -- and we still have a chance to save them. (If the number is right, there's still more Indus River dolphins than whooping cranes, of which there are 400 or so, and black-footed ferrets, around 500 or so). So it's worth it to try and save them -- but given the political/social instability in Pakistan, it won't be easy.

Here's a map of where they are and a picture of the appealing Indus river dolphin.