This past weekend I visited Yosemite National Park. Not too terribly much exciting — and only saw eight unique tetrapod species — but I want to go to Yosemite or Yellowstone sometime fairly soon again and try for more animals. However, I thought I'd share this photo of Vernal Fall, which I thought came out exceptionally well.
Vernal Falls, at 37.7274262°N 119.5437725°W
A quicky today — prompted by Darren's post over at TetZoo, I went on a hunt for US-visible versions of the UK series "Inside Nature's Giants". Here's a snippet from YouTube on the second episode on whales:
I was thinking about the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, and I found myself wishing we were doing more to reach for the stars. So, here is a speech that I wish we would hear from President Obama — though I doubt very much we will.
My fellow Americans:
It has been forty years since humanity first set foot on another celestial body. It has been forty years since we left the fragile confines of our blue marble and looked down upon it from another world.
Those forty years have seen remarkable advances. Our pocket calculators, phones, and PDAs have more than the entire sum of processing power used to launch, land, and coordinate the Apollo missions. We escaped the Cold War, we built giant particle accelerators that attempt to glimpse the first moments of this universe.
And yet, for more than 35 years, we've all humbly retired to this planet of ours and been content to live our our lives here, not reaching out.
We've done great science on other planets. Kepler searches for Earths around other stars; Spirit and Opportunity and countless other missions to Mars map it out in increasing detail. New Horizons is pointed toward the rock we call Pluto, so far out our Sun is barely distinguishable from the rest of the stars in the sky. The great Jovian planets, and their moons, are photographed with wonderful instruments we send their way. But a human has not ventured out to another celestial body since the end of Apollo.
I cannot say it better than John F. Kennedy, so I won't try. The importance of reaching out beyond our globe is not for science, but for the human spirit. Its a deep motivation, and to give another generation the wonder of space, showing that another world is accessible to them. That they or their children might step foot on another world. It is time that humanity begins its process of slowly moving out of our fragile nest, and move in to new worlds.
To that end, I give our country, our species, a challenge. We shall land on the Moon once more by 2019, Mars by 2024 and have a permanent station on either by 2035. It will not be easy. It will not be cheap. And great advances will have to be made along the way. But I know we can do this. Each grand step into unknown territory has brought our species more knowledge, more technology, and further insights into our world, and even if we do not see it now, I have no doubt that we can do so again. Let it be said in 2109 that 2009 was the year that humanity truly looked up into the sky and decided that they had grown old enough, and wise enough, to become a species not of one world but of many.
Thank you, and goodnight.
So I was reading an article on the WSJ, and, well, I feel it fundamentally misses the point of a cap and trade system. The key mistake in the bill lives here:
[...] As the cap is tightened and companies are stripped of initial opportunities to "offset" their emissions, the price of permits will skyrocket beyond the CBO estimate of $28 per ton of carbon. The corporate costs of buying these expensive permits will be passed to consumers. [...]
This takes place in the context of post-2020 restrictions on CO2 emissions in the proposed Waxman-Markey bill. However, this has the fundamental assumption that overall CO2 emissions will not markedly decrease, and thus there will be fees passed onto the consumer. This is incorrect. The purpose of a cap and trade system is to allow corporations to optomize at their own rates, and those that cannot reduce CO2 emissions in a timely manner can "buy" emissions from other companies that have. However, the fact remains that companies will reduce their overall CO2 emissions. A cap and trade system must have caps that eventually impose exorbitant fees in order to make the R&D of finding more efficient processes the financially responsible one. These R&D fees will briefly be passed onto the consumer only at the end of the cap and trade cycle. Those that invest early in R&D will be able to pay their R&D fees by selling their own CO2 quotas.
I'm not sure how the WSJ missed this point and instead claims:
The hit to GDP is the real threat in this bill. The whole point of cap and trade is to hike the price of electricity and gas so that Americans will use less. These higher prices will show up not just in electricity bills or at the gas station but in every manufactured good, from food to cars. Consumers will cut back on spending, which in turn will cut back on production, which results in fewer jobs created or higher unemployment. [...]
No no no. And then it took its analysis from the Heritage Foundation, a self-identified "conservative think tank"? They too missed the whole point that the only losers in this game are the laggards that fail to innovate, and thus, should fail in a free-market system anyway. Those who innovate too slowly are left holding the bill, while those that did so earlier are already selling products to customers. In any reasonable sense of competition, this also means that if in a given niche one company innovates before the other, the innovator is able to offer its product at lower rates if the competitor takes too long to develop their own methods of reducing CO2.
Sigh. A cap and trade is probably the most economically neutral kick-in-the-pants possible, but some people just don't want it for strict party-line reasons, it seems. I've really not heard a credible response that doesn't put blinders on and ignore R&D / the scientific community.
At a Ren Faire this weekend in Fair Oaks, then work at LHS begins on Monday. Good times.
So, a tweet of mine from yesterday has generated a fairly long discussion thread on Facebook. So, I've compiled the entire thing here, for further discussion and for anyone else to weigh in. The tweet in question? "I just realized that while "before" is not defined for "what came before the big bang?", neither is "what", since energy is not defined!" This kicked off with my cousin Michelle:
Interesting philosophy... although I would say you have it wrong. What and before can be defined... it's "came" that I have a problem with.
Dwayne also commented:
No, "before" is defined. However, the definition of "before" depends on the definition of "time", and time is only defined starting from the beginning of the universe. It's more accurate to say that the question is meaningless rather than that the words within the question are undefined.
Then again, I'm not an astrophysicist, so what do I know?
First, a minor aside: the DMV always sucks, and it sucks more when someone who doesn't speak proper English gives you incorrect instructions, and as a result, you can't take your driving test.
Photo by Flickr user Another Seb
Now, to the main thrust of the post. I have been recently very strongly thinking about adding a pet and picking up a Psittacus erithacus ssp., or an African Grey Parrot. It's a lifetime commitment — they can live to be 50-65 years, with some becoming much older than that.
Photo by Flickr user devlon duthie
As a pet, however, the African Grey (at this very preliminary stage, I'm leaning toward the timneh subspecies) is highly intelligent, and, in theory, are capable of identifying objects, their qualities, and comparisons between them. They are comparatively high maintenance, needing frequent handling (but I would be fine with that), but should be a good next animal in my progression. I promised myself I would not get a dog until I own a house with a backyard, to be fair to the animal ... and though I don't see him frequently anymore, I still have Pharaoh!
Photo by Flickr user Retrolusionary
Challenges to this Grand Plan at the moment? First, the bird and the equipment will start around $1000 from a pet store, and I may want to hunt around for breeders, etc. Then, of course, I'll need to look at how climby Sasha is, so the feasibility of having a bird around a cat in San Diego. I'm hopeful, though ... maybe I'll be able to pull this off within a year.
I'd intended to embed more science and technicality into this post, but it got a bit obscured by parrotly musings. Oh well. Here's something: when I do this, I'll have pets in archosauria, lepidosauria, and carnivora, with periodic rodent interlopers.
Edit: Of course, the auto-Twitter plugin didn't compress the URL of this post first. I think adding the word-wrap property should have fixed the issue, but let me know if the Twitter links (or any others) are spilling out of boundary boxes).
Sometimes, I think we were too successful in doing our part to fix certain problems, such as the major elimination of DDT sources and reduction in CFC use. The rebound associated with these, such as the Bald Eagle from the brink of extinction, and reformation of the ozone layer from dangerous levels, really leads us to have the impression we can do whatever we want to the brink of disaster and rebound.
The global fish stocks are a symptom of this mentality. To a lesser extent, climate change is in there, too — though, I feel like the term "global warming" that isn't (i.e., some places will cool, which certainly makes it nonglobal and not warming) provides fodder for denialists.
This is my rebuttal to everyone who wants to look away, or wait: realize that the ecosystem is precisely that, a system. It is finely balanced, and virtually all changes take place on a century pace at the most breakneck. This means that the extirpation of wolves from Yellowstone increased erosion, shrink forests, and decrease water quality [ no wolves -> increased prey items, such as elk -> destroy young trees & feed more by the river, loosening dirt ]. It means that Bufo marinus causes snakes to shrink (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0406440101) and an increase in Crocodylus porosus populations but a decrease in C. johnstoni populations (DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2008.04.031). Three degrees of climate change to the barrier reef could collapse bird and turtle populations.
These are things that affect us, too. We don't live in a vacuum. For example, sensitive phytoplankton provide about half the oxygen generation of the planet. You can argue about hippy-ness, tree-hugging, whatever you want ... but the fact of the matter is, if climate change proponents are wrong, you're just being a bit less wasteful and more efficient if you follow their advice, at the expense of a few dollars and a little time.
If denialists are wrong, and we follow their advice, we have environmental collapse, and in the worst-case scenario, mass extinctions a planet not quite so hospitible to humans. Life, even tetrapod life will do fine; it has adapted to dramatic changes in oxygen content before. We, however, would be in a much worse position.
Think of it this way: it's like Pascal's Wager, except, you know, real.
Yes, this ResearchBlogging entry on Panda's Thumb is almost a year old, but I still think it is a great article about a fantastic paper. Essentially, a group of E. coli developed the novel ability to metabolize citrate (Cit+) based on a potentiating mutation earlier in its evolution. Take that, creationists.
Prompted by Pharyngula posts and a high rate of creationist stuff recently. Off to the Burbank Airport to go back to Berkeley ...
So, I finally saw Star Trek. Time for a review!
--Warning: Gratuitous Spoilers--(More)
So, I'm sitting in the Berkeley BART, soon to head off to Pleasanton to go catch Star Trek with Jessica and some others (it occurs to me this is one of my few friends without a blog or site to link to!). Since I will have a lot of down time, and probably 3 hours of battery on my Eee PC, I decided I'd throw some "Physics of Star Trek" out there.
VOY: "Blink of an Eye"
Case: Time-Distorted Planet
Plausibility: Highly unlikely
While a nice episode with an interesting premise, the catch here that prevents it from entering the realm of plausible is the fact that time went faster for those on the planet, rather than Voyager. General Relativity provides for various forms of time dilation, including gravitational an other odd spacetime constructs that distort spacetime. However, all of these distortions increase your dilation, as "neutral" is flat, empty space. For your rate of passage though time to increase, your speed would have to be imaginary, so that when squared (IE, when calculating your spacetime interval along a Minkowski metric), you need to increase your rate of passage through time to be greater than unity (or c, depending on how you look at it).
For the curious, the first picture is a Chamaeleo calyptratus, or the Veiled Chameleon. From chameleons, you get your word of the day: zygodactyly, which describes the arrangement of having toes pointing in opposite directions for grasping, much like parrots.
The frog drawing is just snazzy — I'm not sure which species it is.
It occurs to me, after entering this, that this would be a great Tuesday Tetrapod. Oh well.
Elizabeth the laptop has died suddenly of irreparable organ failure in her old age, as she approached her fourth birthday. Surgeons tried to find a solution, but a vital organ appeared to have experienced a memory parity error.
Liz was born in June 2005, a child with an adult's mind. Born with a form of CIPA, she was prone to overheating, but learned to mange this disability with education and practice. She broke her glasses several times, and as such, often had trouble reading when this happened. However, she had excellent artistic abilities, including some of the best artwork of her day and a great singing voice.
Elizabeth donated her organs to the less fortunate.
Yep, postless for a bit. Suffice it to say things have been hectic and suprisingly full. I have a list of things in my browser that auto open that I want to discuss, like stars in the Pleiades, sauropod neck position, still the Higgs post, and black holes.
However, until those get put up, I will just point you towards a researchblogging article by Grrlscientist (on Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)) about how birds read human eyes.
Also, via Badastronomy, I found out about the Florida Citizens for Science Stick Science competition. The idea is to make a stick-figure comic about a topic that is misunderstood in science (particularly evolution), and "correct the record". For my part, I've submitted the following:
Alternate: large PNG. Disclaimer: Yes, I know that cladograms aren't right for development of an organism. Its a parody. Put the point is you can replace a real transition with the tree development steps here and get the same response.
I amused myself with that one. That's it for now, though. For more random blog entries, Rachael has a cool one up on a caterpillar entering its chrysalis.