Cross seas: Nature, or design?

April 16, 2014

Here’s just exactly the sort of thing that happens in nature that drives creationists nuts.  How could this happen without God personally working to confuse and/or delight the photographer?  Not to mention the physicist and mathematician.

Photo from the Twitter feed of Science Porn:

Photo from the Twitter feed of Science Porn: “Go home waves you’re drunk. This is called cross sea btw pic.twitter.com/5Cv1UUo8QX”

Where? Somewhere in France, one might gather from the flag on the structure (lighthouse?).

Turns out to be a Wikipedia photo, with this intriguing caption:

Crossing swells, consisting of near-cnoidal wave trains. Photo taken from Phares des Baleines (Whale Lighthouse) at the western point of Île de Ré (Isle of Rhé), France, in the Atlantic Ocean. The interaction of such near-solitons in shallow water may be modeled through the Kadomtsev–Petviashvili equation.

Oh, you remember that one, don’t you?  The Kadomtsev–Petviashvili equation?

At least we confirmed it was taken in France.

They do everything differently in France, don’t they?


“Years of Living Dangerously” – April 13 premiere of climate change information series

April 11, 2014

Will it work this time?  Can it recharge the effort Al Gore started?

Monte Best of Plainview, Texas, explains to Don Cheadle how the Texas drought caused the Cargill Company to close its meat packing plant in the city.

Monte Best of Plainview, Texas, explains to Don Cheadle how the Texas drought caused the Cargill Company to close its meat packing plant in the city. “Act of God,” many local people say.

Here’s the trailer:

The avid promotional explanation:

Published on Mar 14, 2014

Don’t miss the documentary series premiere of Years of Living Dangerously, Sunday, April 13th at 10PM ET/PT.

Subscribe to the Years of Living Dangerously channel for more clips:
http://s.sho.com/YearsYouTube

Official site: http://www.sho.com/yearsoflivingdange…
The Years Project: http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/
Follow: https://twitter.com/YEARSofLIVING
Like: https://www.facebook.com/YearsOfLiving
Watch on Showtime Anytime: http://s.sho.com/1hoirn4
Don’t Have Showtime? Order Now: http://s.sho.com/P0DCVU

It’s the biggest story of our time. Hollywood’s brightest stars and today’s most respected journalists explore the issues of climate change and bring you intimate accounts of triumph and tragedy. YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY takes you directly to the heart of the matter in this awe-inspiring and cinematic documentary series event from Executive Producers James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

More: 


March 14, 2014: π Day! A π roundup, mostly pie

March 14, 2014

Let’s rerun this one.  I like the photographs. I may go search for a good piece of pie.

Of course you remembered that today is pi Day, right?

Pi Day Pie from Slashfood.com

Happy π Day! Pi Day Pie – Slashfood.com

Oh, or maybe better, π Day.

We’ll start with the brief post from a few months ago, and then build on it with some activities and posts from around the WordPress-o-sphere.

The good people at PiDay.org suggest a few ways you can celebrate:

Make (and Eat) a Pie – These pie recipes for Pi Day from NPR’s McCallister look incredibly tasty. But, there’s no shame in putting a frozen store-bought pie in the oven, or picking up a pie from your local bakery. Any kind of pie is great on Pi Day! If you’re making your own, get inspired by these beautifully designed Pi Day Pies. Tell us on Facebook: What’s your favorite kind of pie for Pi Day?

Hope your π Day is complete as a circle, and well-rounded!

How are others celebrating?  A look around WordPress:

At SocialMediaPhobe, a musical interpretation of pi featuring the music of Michael Blake:

So Long Freedom:

pidaypieToday is March 14th, also known as “Pi Day” for us math geeks out there because March 14th (3/14) is the first 3 digits of π (3.14159…).  To celebrate “Pi Day” I highly recommend doing something mathematical while having some pie at 1:59 pm.  I recommend Yumology‘s S’mores Pie as it has 3 main ingredients (chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker) and about 0.14159 other ingredients like sugar, butter, and stuff.  If you are not a math geek, its okay…you can still eat pie and count things like how many stop signs you pass on your way back to work from lunch.  Or you could go to the library and take out a book on something fun like binary code.  As we like to say, “There are only 10 types of people in the world:  Those that understand binary and those that don’t.”  Seriously, binary is as easy as 01000001, 01000010, 01000011.

Miles Free at PMPA Speaking of Precision:

Today 3-14 at 1:59  I will be celebrqting Pi Day. 3.14159 is the value of pi to 5 decimals...

So besides being  the cause of much techie “irrational” exuberance, Pi Day  is a great way to get some engagement with students.

Marymount High School has several activities, last year they had a design competition incorporating pi; the students then made and sold buttons of each design, proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Hmm- math subject matter, design, production, sales, accounting.

Sounds like what we do in manufacturing.
Maybe celebrating Pi Day is not so irrational as first thought.

Free said his pie is peach.

Steve Doyle at CraveDFW:

On March 12, 2009 your lawmakers  passed a non-binding resolution (HRES 224) recognizing March 14, 2009 as National Pi Day. It is one of the more legit holidays we discuss here, and it is actually an homage to geeks everywhere who see the date as a reason to celebrate due to its mathematical implications. We say any reason to celebrate anything is just fine by us.

Since we are predominately about food we will suggest a few places to actually enjoy a pie.

DSC06367

If you followed us at all this week you may have seen the pie at Bowl and Barrel pop up on our pages. This is the uber delicious Butterscotch Pie served as the solo dessert at the bowling alley and restaurant.  Go eat one of these.

He’s got more pi pie, if you click over there.

Gareth Branwyn at MakeZine offers more pie and a mnemonic:

How to Remember Pi to 15 Digits

Pi-Pie--69299

By way of sci-fi author and mathenaut Rudy Rucker’s Facebook wall comes this:

One way to remember the first few digits of pi is to count the letters in the words of this phrase:

“How I need a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.”

[Image via FreakingNews]

Another song, on YouTube, at Awsomesauce:

b.love offers this clock image (is this clock for sale somewhere?):

A clock for pi day

TED Blog offers two videos:

Chirag Singh explains his “passion for pi.”

Daniel Tammet, “Different Ways of Knowing:

Geeks are really out in force today, flaunting pi for all they’ve got.

More:


Happy birthday, Albert Einstein! 135 years, today

March 14, 2014

How many ways can we say happy birthday to a great scientist born on Pi Day?  So, an encore post.

E=mcc - logo from AIP

E=energy; m=mass; c=speed of light

Happy Einstein Day! to us.  Albert’s been dead since 1955 — sadly for us.  Our celebrations now are more for our own satisfaction and curiosity, and to honor the great man — he’s beyond caring.

Almost fitting that he was born on π Day, no? I mean, is there an E=mc² Day?

Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany, to Hermann and Pauline Einstein. 26 years later, three days after his birthday, he sent off the paper on the photo-electric effect; that paper would win him the Nobel Prize in Physics in another five years, in 1921. In that same year of 1905, he published three other papers, solving the mystery of Brownian motion, describing what became known as the Special Theory of Relativity and solving the mystery of why measurements of the light did not show any effects of motion as Maxwell had predicted, and a final paper that noted a particle emitting light energy loses mass. This final paper amused Einstein because it seemed so ludicrous in its logical extension that energy and matter are really the same stuff at some fundamental point, as expressed in the equation demonstrating an enormous amount of energy stored in atoms, E=mc².

Albert Einstein as a younger man - Nobel Foundation image

Albert Einstein as a younger man – Nobel Foundation image

Any one of the papers would have been a career-capper for any physicist. Einstein dashed them off in just a few months, forever changing the fields of physics. And, you noticed: Einstein did not win a Nobel for the Special Theory of Relativity, nor for E=mc². He won it for the photo electric effect. Irony in history.

106 years later Einstein’s work affects us every day. Relativity theory at some level I don’t understand makes possible the use Global Positioning Systems (GPS), which revolutionized navigation and mundane things like land surveying and microwave dish placement. Development of nuclear power both gives us hope for an energy-rich future, and gives us fear of nuclear war. Sometimes, even the hope of the energy rich future gives us fear, as we watch and hope nuclear engineers can control the piles in nuclear power plants damaged by earthquakes and tsunami in Japan.

English: Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp

Albert Einstein on a 1966 US stamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Albert Einstein was a genius at physics, he was more dedicated to pacifism. He resigned his German citizenship to avoid military conscription. His pacifism made the German Nazis nervous; Einstein fled Germany in the 1930s, eventually settling in the United States. In the U.S., he was persuaded by Leo Szilard to write to President Franklin Roosevelt to suggest the U.S. start a program to develop an atomic weapon, because Germany most certainly was doing exactly that. But while urging FDR to keep up with the Germans, Einstein refused to participate in the program himself, sticking to his pacifist views. Others could, and would, design and build atomic bombs. (Maybe it’s a virus among nuclear physicists — several of those working on the Manhattan Project were pacifists, and had great difficulty reconciling the idea that the weapon they worked on to beat Germany, was deployed on Japan, which did not have a nuclear weapons program.)

English: USSR stamp dedicated to Albert Einste...

Everybody wanted to claim, and honor Einstein; USSR issued this stamp dedicated to Albert Einstein Русский: Почтовая марка СССР, посвящённая Альберту Эйнштейну (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Einstein was a not-great father, and probably not a terribly faithful husband at first — though he did think to give his first wife, in the divorce settlement, a share of a Nobel Prize should he win it. Einstein was a good violinist, a competent sailor, an incompetent dresser, and a great character. His sister suffered a paralyzing stroke. For many months Albert spent hours a day reading to her the newspapers and books of the day, convinced that though mute and appearing unconscious, she would benefit from hearing the words. He said he did not hold to orthodox religions, but could there be a greater show of faith in human spirit?

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

Einstein in 1950, five years before his death

When people hear clever sayings, but forget to whom the bon mots should be attributed, Einstein is one of about five candidates to whom all sorts of things are attributed, though he never said them. (Others include Lincoln, Jefferson, Mark Twain and Will Rogers). Einstein is the only scientist in that group. So, for example, we can be quite sure Einstein never claimed that compound interest was the best idea of the 20th century. This phenomenon is symbolic of the high regard people have for the man, even though so few understand what his work was, or meant.

A most interesting man. A most important body of work. He deserves more study and regard than he gets.

More, Resources:


It’s π (pi) Day, 2014!

March 14, 2014

One might wonder when a good sociologist will write that book about how our vexing and depressing times push people to extreme measures, dwelling on one particular manifestation:  The invention of new celebrations on the calendar.

In my lifetime Halloween grew from one short dress-up night with candy for kids, to a major commercially-exploited festival, from an interesting social event to a religiously-fraught night of bacchanalia with a weeks-long buildup.  Cinco de Mayo grew into a festival of all things Mexican, though very few people can explain what the day commemorates, even among our Mexican neighbors.  (No, it’s not Mexico’s Independence Day.)

St. Patrick’s Day grew in stature, and Guinness products now are freely available in almost every state.  Bastille Day gets a celebration even in Oak Cliff, Texas.  I’ve pushed Hubble Day, and Feynman Day; this weekend I’ll encourage people to celebrate James Madison’s birthday — and in January, I encourage the commemoration of Millard Fillmore’s birthday.

It could be a fun book, if not intellectually deep.

It will explain why, on Einstein’s birthday, March 14, we celebrate the number π (pi).

That book has not been written down, yet.  So we’re left simply to celebrate.

Down in Austin, at SXSW, some performance artist used the sky as his canvas on π Day Eve; The Austin American-Statesman captured it:

Caption from the Austin American-Statesman: Austin American-Statesman  Tomorrow is pi day, aka March 14, aka 3.14 - which is why mathematical pi was spelled out in a circle over Austin today (Friday isn't supposed to be as good of a day for skywriting)

Caption from the Austin American-Statesman: Austin American-Statesman Tomorrow is pi day, aka March 14, aka 3.14 – which is why mathematical pi was spelled out in a circle over Austin today (Friday isn’t supposed to be as good of a day for skywriting)

Read more about San Francisco-based artist ISHKY’s project on MyStatesman: http://atxne.ws/1cWLF1e

Photo by Austin Humphreys / Austin American-Statesman — with Joseph Lawrence Cantu.

There’s too much good stuff, on Einstein and on pi, for one post.

Happy pi Day!

Here’s to Albert Einstein, wherever you are!

More:

A photo at Life in a Pecan Guild caught a much more informative photograph of the Austin skywriting:

Each letter, and digits (yes, they printed pi in the Sky!) was formed by five airplanes flying in formation.  Wow. Just wow. Photo at Life in a Pecan Guild.

Each letter, and digit (yes, they printed pi in the Sky!) was formed by five airplanes flying in formation. Wow. Just wow. Photo at Life in a Pecan Guild. (Go there for more photos.)

There will be some great photos of that Austin skywriting, I predict.  Will you point them out to us, in comments?


It’s a desert out there: Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013 – Jason Ching film

March 6, 2014

Sitting in a hot trailer out on the northern New Mexico desert, Arizona State’s great soil scientist Tom Brown tipped back his cowboy hat, and asked me if I had been lonely over the previous week.  Classes at BYU started up in August, and our other field workers on the project, with the University of Utah Engineering Experiment Station, for EPA and New Mexico Public Service, had gone back to class.  My classes at the University of Utah didn’t start for a few more weeks — so I was holding down the fort by myself.

Dr. Brown’s expertise in reading air pollution damage on desert plants propelled a good part of the work.  He showed me how to tell the difference between sulfur dioxide damage and nitrogen oxide damage on grasses and other plants, and how to tell  when it was insects.  He had some great stories.  As a Mormon, he was also full of advice on life.

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

The Shiprock, a plug from an ancient volcano, left after the mountain eroded away. Near Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Reservation. Wikipedia image by Bowie Snodgrass

Between Farmington where our hotel was, and Teec Nos Pos where our most distant (non-wet) sampling site was, radio reception was lousy most of the time.  The Navajo-language AM station in Farmington played some of the best music, and sometimes it could be caught as far west as Shiprock .  Most of the time, driving across Navajoland, I had nothing but my thoughts to accompany me.  Well, thoughts and the all-too-frequent Navajo funeral processions, 50 pickups long on a two-lane highway.

“No, not lonely.  There’s a lot of work, I’ve got good books, and sleep is good,” I told him.

“Enjoy it,” Brown said.  “The best time for any researcher is out in the field.  And when you’re young, and you haven’t seen it all, it’s better.”

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Indian rice grass in the sunlight (Oryzopsis hymendoides). Photo from the Intermountain Herbarium, Utah State University Extension Service

Brown spent a couple of days.  Within a couple of weeks I turned everything over to other Ph.Ds to shut down the wet sampling for the winter, and caught a ride back to Provo (closer to where I lived) in a Cessna with a pilot who loved to fly low enough to see the canyons along the way.  Get a map and think of the possibilities, with a landing in Moab; if you don’t drool at the thought of such a trip in the air but not too high, if your heart doesn’t actually beat faster thinking of such a trip, go see your physician for treatment.

By that time I was out of film, alas.

My few summers out in the desert chasing air pollution stay fixed in the surface of my memory.  Indian rice grass still excites me in the afternoon sun (Oryzopsis hymenoides) — one of the more beautiful of grasses, one of the more beautiful and soil-holding desert plants.  When hear the word “volcano,” I think of the Shiprock.  When I read of air pollution damage, I think of all the pinon, aspen, cottonwoods, firs and other trees we gassed; when I see aspen in its full autumn glory, I remember those dozen  or so leaves we caused to turn with SO2 (slight damage turns the leaves colors; greater damage makes them necrotic, a bit of a mirror of autumn).

All of that came back as I watched Jason Ching’s film, “Salmon Research at Iliamna Lake, Alaska 2013,” a simple six-minute compilation of shots taken with modern electronic cameras, including the hardy little GoPros, and with assistance from a DJI Phantom Quadcopter drone.  Wow, what we could have captured with that equipment!

Ching’s description of the film:

This video showcases the scenery of Iliamna Lake and shows some of the 2013 research of the Alaska Salmon Program’s Iliamna Lake research station, one of four main facilities in Southwest Alaska . Established in the 1940′s, the Program’s research has been focused on ecology and fisheries management relating primarily to salmon and the environment in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Check out our program at: fish.washington.edu/research/alaska/

Filmed and edited by Jason Ching
Additional footage provided by Cyril Michel

Song:
“The long & quiet flight of the pelican” by Ending Satellites (endingsatellites.com)

Additonal Information:
Shot on a Canon 5d Mark II, Canon T3i, GoPro Hero 2 and GoPro Hero 3
DJI Phantom Quadcopter

JasonSChing.com

I am very grateful to be a part of such a long standing, and prominent program that allows me to work in the field in such an incredible setting with fantastic folks. This is the second video I created, the first one in 2012, to merely show family and friends back at home what I’ve been up to during the summer. This video was often shot between, or during field sampling events so a special thanks goes out to all those who supported me by continuing to work while I fiddled with camera gear.

Do you really want to get kids more interested in science?  Show them this stuff.  Scientists get the front seats on cool stuff — and they often get paid to do it, though they won’t get rich.

Researching life, and rocks, geography and landscape, and water resources, one may be alone in a desert, or a desert of human communication.  Then one discovers just how beautiful the desert  is, all the time.

More:

  • Yes, I know; Indian rice grass has been renomenclaturedAchnatherum hymenoides (Roemer & J.A. Shultes) Barkworth, or Stipa hymenoides Roemer & J.S. Shultes, or Oryzopsis hymenoides (Roemer & J.S. Shultes) Ricker ex Piper.  It is the State Grass of Utah

Annals of Global Warming: January 2014 ranks 4th warmest January since 1880

February 21, 2014

Wonk Blog at the Washington Post headlined,

Last month was one of the warmest Januaries ever. No, really

And so it was.

Caption from AGU Blog: This is why the global temperature is not taken in your backyard in January. When you average the entire globe for an entire year, a much different picture emerges. NASA Aqua satellite image of a cold and snowy Mid-Atlantic Wednesday morning.

Caption from AGU Blog: This is why the global temperature is not taken in your backyard in January. When you average the entire globe for an entire year, a much different picture emerges. NASA Aqua satellite image of a cold and snowy Mid-Atlantic Wednesday morning.

Information from the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of NOAA:

Global Highlights:

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for January was the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest on record at 12.7°C (54.8°F), or 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). The margin of error associated with this temperature is ± 0.08°C (± 0.14°F).
  • The global land temperature was the highest since 2007 and the fourth highest on record for January, at 1.17°C (2.11°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F). The margin of error is ± 0.18°C (± 0.32°F).
  • For the ocean, the January global sea surface temperature was 0.46°C (0.83°F) above the 20th century average of 15.8°C (60.5°F), the highest since 2010 and seventh highest on record for January. The margin of error is ± 0.04°C (± 0.07°F).

Introduction:

Temperature anomalies and percentiles are shown on the gridded maps below. The anomaly map on the left is a product of a merged land surface temperature (Global Historical Climatology Network, GHCN) and sea surface temperature (ERSST.v3b) anomaly analysis developed by Smith et al. (2008). Temperature anomalies for land and ocean are analyzed separately and then merged to form the global analysis. For more information, please visit NCDC’s Global Surface Temperature Anomalies page. The January 2014 Global State of the Climate report includes percentile maps that complement the information provided by the anomaly maps. These maps on the right provide additional information by placing the temperature anomaly observed for a specific place and time period into historical perspective, showing how the most current month, season, or year-to-date compares with the past.

Temperatures:

In the atmosphere, 500-millibar height pressure anomalies correlate well with temperatures at the Earth’s surface. The average position of the upper-level ridges of high pressure and troughs of low pressure—depicted by positive and negative 500-millibar height anomalies on the January 2014 map—is generally reflected by areas of positive and negative temperature anomalies at the surface, respectively.

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in degrees Celsius

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies in degrees Celsius

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles

January 2014 Blended Land and Sea Surface Temperature Percentiles

The combined global land and ocean average temperature during January 2014 was 0.65°C (1.17°F) above the 20th century average. This was the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth highest since records began in 1880. This marks the ninth consecutive month (since May 2013) with a global monthly temperature among the 10 highest for its respective month. The Northern Hemisphere land and ocean surface temperature during January 2014 was also the warmest since 2007 and the fourth warmest since records began in 1880 at 0.75°C (1.35°F) above average. The Southern Hemisphere January 2014 temperature departure of +0.55°C (+0.99°F) was the warmest since 2010 and the fourth warmest January on record.

During January 2014, most of the world’s land areas experienced warmer-than-average temperatures, with the most notable departures from the 1981–2010 average across Alaska, western Canada, Greenland, Mongolia, southern Russia, and northern China, where the departure from average was +3°C (+5.4°F) or greater. Meanwhile, parts of southeastern Brazil and central and southern Africa experienced record warmth with temperature departures between 0.5°C to 1.5°C above the 1981–2010 average, contributing to the highest January Southern Hemisphere land temperature departure on record at 1.13°C (2.03°F) above the 20th century average. This was also the warmest month for the Southern Hemisphere land since September 2013 when temperatures were 1.23°C (2.21°F) above the 20th century average. Some locations across the globe experienced departures that were below the 1981–2010 average. These areas include the eastern half of the contiguous U.S., central Canada, and most of Scandinavia and Russia. The most notable cold anomalies were in Russia, where in some areas the departure from average was 5°C (9°F) below average. Overall, the Northern Hemisphere land surface temperature was 1.17°C (2.11°F) above average—the warmest January since 2007 and the fourth warmest since records began in 1880.

Select national information is highlighted below. (Please note that different countries report anomalies with respect to different base periods. The information provided here is based directly upon these data):

  • France’s nationally-averaged January 2014 temperature was 2.7°C (4.9°F) above the 1981–2010 average, tying with 1988 and 1936 as the warmest January on record.
  • Spain experienced its warmest January since 1996 and the third warmest since national records began in 1961, with a temperature of 9°C (48.2°F) or 2°C (3.6°F) above the 1971–2000 average.
  • The January temperature in Switzerland was 2.4°C (4.3°F) above the 1981–2010 average—the fifth warmest January since national records began 150 years ago.
  • Austria experienced its fifth warmest January since national records began in 1768. The nationally-averaged temperature was 3.3°C (5.9°F) above the 1981–2010 average. However, in some regions across the southern parts of the country, the temperatures were the highest on record. In Klagenfurt, the temperature departure was 5°C (9°F)—the highest since January 1813.
  • China, as a whole, recorded an average temperature of -3.4°C (25.9°F) or 1.6°C (2.9°F) above average during January 2014. This was the second highest January value, behind 2002, since national records began in 1961.
  • In Argentina, persistence of extremely high temperatures across central and northern parts of the country resulted in several locations setting new maximum, minimum, and mean temperature records for the month of January.
  • Warm temperatures engulfed much of Australia during January 2014. Overall, the national average mean temperature was 0.91°C (1.64°F) above the 1961–1990 average. This was the 12th highest January temperature since national records began in 1910. Regionally, the January 2014 temperature ranked among the top 10 warmest in Queensland, Victoria, and South Australia.

Across the oceans, temperature departures tend to be smaller than across the land surfaces. According to the percentiles map, much-warmer-than-average conditions were present across parts of the Atlantic Ocean, the northeastern and western Pacific Ocean, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Record warmth was observed across parts of the northern Pacific Ocean (south of Alaska), parts of the western Pacific Ocean, south of South Africa, and across parts of the Atlantic Ocean. Overall, the global ocean surface temperature in January was +0.46°C (+0.83°F)—the warmest since 2010 and the seventh warmest on record.

More at the NCDC/NOAA site.

Warming denialists will scream about these data.

More:


Lincoln and Darwin, born hours apart, February 12, 1809

February 12, 2014

Is it an unprecedented coincidence?  205 years ago today, just minutes apart according to unconfirmed accounts, Abraham Lincoln was born in a rude log cabin on Nolin Creek, in Kentucky, and Charles Darwin was born into a wealthy family at the family home  in Shrewsbury, England.

Gutzon Borglums 1908 bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol - AOC photo

Gutzon Borglum’s 1908 bust of Abraham Lincoln in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol – Architect of the Capitol photo

Lincoln would become one of our most endeared presidents, though endearment would come after his assassination.  Lincoln’s bust rides the crest of Mt. Rushmore (next to two slaveholders), with George Washington, the Father of His Country, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and Theodore Roosevelt, the man who made the modern presidency, and the only man ever to have won both a Congressional Medal of Honor and a Nobel Prize, the only president to have won the Medal of Honor.  In his effort to keep the Union together, Lincoln freed the slaves of the states in rebellion during the civil war, becoming an icon to freedom and human rights for all history.  Upon his death the entire nation mourned; his funeral procession from Washington, D.C., to his tomb in Springfield, Illinois, stopped twelve times along the way for full funeral services.  Lying in state in the Illinois House of Representatives, beneath a two-times lifesize portrait of George Washington, a banner proclaimed, “Washington the Father, Lincoln the Savior.”

Charles Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London - NHM photo

Charles Darwin statue, Natural History Museum, London – NHM photo

Darwin would become one of the greatest scientists of all time.  He would be credited with discovering the theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.  His meticulous footnoting and careful observations formed the data for ground-breaking papers in geology (the creation of coral atolls), zoology (barnacles, and the expression of emotions in animals and man), botany (climbing vines and insectivorous plants), ecology (worms and leaf mould), and travel (the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle).  At his death he was honored with a state funeral, attended by the great scientists and statesmen of London in his day.  Hymns were specially written for the occasion.  Darwin is interred in Westminster Abbey near Sir Isaac Newton, England’s other great scientist, who knocked God out of the heavens.

Lincoln would be known as the man who saved the Union of the United States and set the standard for civil and human rights, vindicating the religious beliefs of many and challenging the beliefs of many more.  Darwin’s theory would become one of the greatest ideas of western civilization, changing forever all the sciences, and especially agriculture, animal husbandry, and the rest of biology, while also provoking crises in religious sects.

Lincoln, the politician known for freeing the slaves, also was the first U.S. president to formally consult with scientists, calling on the National Science Foundation (whose creation he oversaw) to advise his administration.  Darwin, the scientist, advocated that his family put the weight of its fortune behind the effort to abolish slavery in the British Empire.  Each held an interest in the other’s disciplines.

Both men were catapulted to fame in 1858. Lincoln’s notoriety came from a series of debates on the nation’s dealing with slavery, in his losing campaign against Stephen A. Douglas to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate.  On the fame of that campaign, he won the nomination to the presidency of the fledgling Republican Party in 1860.  Darwin was spurred to publicly reveal his ideas about the power of natural and sexual selection as the force behind evolution, in a paper co-authored by Alfred Russel Wallace, presented to the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858.   On the strength of that paper, barely noticed at the time, Darwin published his most famous work, On the Origin of Species, in November 1859.

The two men might have got along well, but they never met.

What unusual coincidences.

Go celebrate human rights, good science, and the stories about these men.

A school kid could do much worse than to study the history of these two great men.  In fact, we study them far too little, it seems to me.

Resources:

Charles Darwin:

Abraham Lincoln:

More:

Anybody know what hour of the day either of these men was born?

This is mostly an encore post.

Yes, you may fly your flag today for Lincoln’s birthday; the official holiday, Washington’s Birthday, is next Monday, February 17th — and yes, it’s usually called “President’s Day” by merchants and calendar makers.


Working to stand the heat in the kitchen

February 10, 2014

Dr. Isis was wronged, and improperly attacked on the internet for the situation.

Masthead from Dr. Isis's blog.  Note the shoes.

Masthead from Dr. Isis’s blog. Note the shoes.

She’s working to deal with whether to continue to write, and in what form . . .

I offered some information (links added here):

Lessons from my much more political years, and graduate study in rhetoric.

1.  You know you’ve got a movement when opposition forms against you.  That’s irritating, but it’s better than not having opposition, which means you’re failing to get your point across, most often.

2.  Clear communication, especially writing, gets a response — sometimes not the response you expected or wanted, but a response.  With practice, you can hone your message.

Cicero delivering his speech against Cataline.

“Cicero Denouncing Cataline,” in 63 BC; 1889 fresco painting by Cesare Maccari (1840-1919).  Wikipedia image

Used to be a couple of posters available to rhetoric students, both attributed to Plutarch’s Lives,  a comparison of the Greek, Demosthenes, with the Roman, Cicero.  The first, talking about the later man, said, “When Cicero spoke, the people said how well he spoke.”

The second said, “When Demosthenes spoke, the people cried, ‘Let us march!’”

Which man was the more effective orator, or rhetorician?

Demosthenes Practicing Oratory (Démosthène s'exerçant à la parole); Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ (1842-1923)

Demosthenes Practicing Oratory (Démosthène s’exerçant à la parole); Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ (1842-1923)

Effective writing makes people angry.  That’s what it should do.

From 1945 on, countless scientists wrote about “potential harms to wildlife” from chemicals put on crops, and used for other purposes.

[In 1962] Rachel Carson wrote about chemicals, naming names — especially DDT — and described little robins writhing and twitching in their death throes.  She’s credited with starting a movement.  But before that, the chemical industry teamed up to run a $500,000 public relations campaign (in 1962!), claiming Carson was hysterical, unqualified, and wrong, perhaps a communist, but not anyone you’d want your children to be around.  She calmly asked scientists to review her notes and find errors.  They found none.

Tone?  Truth comes in many tones.  The wise seek it even if they don’t like the tone it takes at the moment.

How about your experience?


All those animals on the ark? I don’t think so

February 5, 2014

No, I didn’t watch Bill Nye dissect Ken Ham in the science vs. creationism debate.  I share with many other science-loving people a conviction that “debating” creationists is wholly irrelevant, and tends only to build the glory of the creationists who cannot manage to set up a single scientific observation or experiment to provide evidence for creationism, but can stand on a stage and crack bad jokes and lie, against a mumbling scientist.

But I have looked at some of the commentary, and some of Nye’s remarks and rebuttals.  Nye did very well.

Nye tended to develop clear, non-scientific explanations for the issues.  Ham and creationists aren’t ready for that.

In that vein, J. Rehling tweeted this astonishingly clear explanation for why it’s just impossible to “believe” that the fabled ark of Noah could carry even most of the species alive, in one boat (and, mind you, the San Diego Zoo is neither the world’s largest collection of species on display in a zoo, nor displaying a significant percentage of all species):

Two pictures that tell the story.

How big was Noah’s Ark? Not big enough, especially compared to the San Diego Zoo and the USS Nimitz.

San Diego Zoo and USS Nimitz, the largest ship in the U.S. Navy; clearly, no ark built by Noah could have been big enough to carry all land animals.  Image mashup by JRehling

San Diego Zoo and USS Nimitz, the largest ship in the U.S. Navy; clearly, no ark built by Noah could have been big enough to carry all land animals. Image mashup by JRehling


Mammatus clouds, Hastings, Nebraska

January 28, 2014

From Twitter today; working to track down more details.

A photo by John C. Olsen, taken in Hastings, Nebraska, perhaps on December 31, 2013:

From Fascinating Pics: One of the rarest weather phenomena, Mammatus Clouds. Photo taken by John C. Olsen in Hastings, NE pic.twitter.com/dlPNaPa25D

From Fascinating Pics: One of the rarest weather phenomena, Mammatus Clouds. Photo taken by John C. Olsen in Hastings, NE pic.twitter.com/dlPNaPa25D

Our boys liked clouds from the start.  A couple of our early cloud identification books featured mammatus clouds (guess where the name came from); and before each boy was 11, we had seen these clouds here in Texas, often in that treacherous time known as tornado season.

Beautiful clouds, yes, but often scary — well, until you read from the University of Illinois that they tend to follow nasty storms, not precede them.

Mammatus Cloudssagging pouch-like structuresMammatus are pouch-like cloud structures and a rare example of clouds in sinking air.

Sometimes very ominous in appearance, mammatus clouds are harmless and do not mean that a tornado is about to form; a commonly held misconception. In fact, mammatus are usually seen after the worst of a thunderstorm has passed.

As updrafts carry precipitation enriched air to the cloud top, upward momentum is lost and the air begins to spread out horizontally, becoming a part of the anvil cloud. Because of its high concentration of precipitation particles (ice crystals and water droplets), the saturated air is heavier than the surrounding air and sinks back towards the earth.

The temperature of the subsiding air increases as it descends. However, since heat energy is required to melt and evaporate the precipitation particles contained within the sinking air, the warming produced by the sinking motion is quickly used up in the evaporation of precipitation particles. If more energy is required for evaporation than is generated by the subsidence, the sinking air will be cooler than its surroundings and will continue to sink downward.

The subsiding air eventually appears below the cloud base as rounded pouch-like structures called mammatus clouds.

Mammatus are long lived if the sinking air contains large drops and snow crystals since larger particles require greater amounts of energy for evaporation to occur. Over time, the cloud droplets do eventually evaporate and the mammatus dissolve.

Our experience is the clouds look a lot cooler than can be captured on film or in electronic images.  Mr. Olsen captured a great image.

Very nice shot


What if you don’t know enough even to cheat on the chemistry exam?

January 15, 2014

Brilliant work from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

This cartoon is witty and funny — and it is a wonderful illustration of how people need to know enough to see the humor, or cheat.

Don’t catch the gags?  See here.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner:  The exam on the Periodic Table of Elements

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weiner: The exam on the Periodic Table of Elements

You may discuss the cartoon at the SMBC blog:

August 26, 2011

Well, this record may stand for a while. 57 panels, baby.

Also, Phil and I figured out some extended periodic table elements. Who can tell me the abbreviation for Element 5885?

Discuss this comic in the forum

Or discuss it here at the Bathtub.

The cartoon reminds me of so many lazy or not-up-to-par students who would stay up late inventing ways to cheat on an exam, when a bit of study would have paid so many more dividends.

It’s harder to cheat, most of the time, that to be honest and learn the stuff.


How’s that “defund the EPA” working for you now? West Virginia edition

January 10, 2014

Rite-Aid store in Charleston, West Virginia, out of bottled drinking water.

Rite-Aid store in Charleston, West Virginia, out of bottled drinking water. Eyewitness report and photo via Twitter

West Virginia’s water woes might look like a political campaign ad from God to some people.

If you’re watching closely, you may already understand some of the morals of this story.

Last night West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared an emergency in six counties, telling about 300,000 people to avoid touching their tapwater — no drinking, mixing infant formula, cooking, or bathing; flushing toilets was okay.  NBC reported:

A chemical spill into a West Virginia river has led to a tap water ban for up to 300,000 people, shut down bars and restaurants and led to a run on bottled water in some stores as people looked to stock up.

The federal government joined West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in declaring a disaster as the West Virginia National Guard arranged to dispense bottled drinking water to emergency services agencies in the counties hit by the chemical spill into the Elk River.

Federal authorities are also opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak and what triggered it, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said Friday.

The advisory was expanded at night to nine counties and includes West Virginia American Water customers in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties.

Several thousand gallons of an industrial chemical had leaked out, into a tributary to the Kanawha River above Charleston, upstream from the city’s culinary water intake.  While the company responsible for the leak, Freedom Industries, assured the governor and other authorities that the spill is not threat to human health, officials took the more cautious path.

This case illustrates troubles we have with food and water supplies, protecting public health, and the rapid proliferation and spread of modern technology and chemical innovation.

  • Why did the company say the spill is no threat?  No research has pinned any particular health effect to the chemical involved. But you, you sneaky, suspicious person, you want to know just what chemical is involved, don’t you?
  • What’s the chemical involved? 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM) spilled out of a tank into the Elk River, which flows into the Kanawha River, from which Charleston gets its water.  Charleston, West Virginia’s capital, is also the state’s largest city.  You’re still suspicious?
  • What are the health effects of the stuff? Now you ask questions for which there are not great answers.  The chemical, with the methylcyclohexane linked to an alcohol molecule, is new enough, and rare enough in industry, that there are not a lot of studies on what it does.  It’s known to irritate skin and mucous membranes; breathing a lot of it can cause pneumonia.  Only rats have been exposed to the stuff enough to know what it does, and only a few rats for only short periods of time and not massive doses. In other words, we don’t know the health effects.
  • What’s the stuff used for? Freedom Industries uses it to wash coal.  Heck, I didn’t even know coal was washed other than a water spray to hold down dust in crushing, loading and unloading the stuff.  [if you missed the link in this post, let call your attention again to the story at WOWK-TV, which is quite thorough in discussing MCHM and its effects.  WOWK-TV is more thorough than the federal regulating agencies.]
  • But wait! If there are no known health effects, why the caution? It’s not that the stuff has been tested and found safe to humans.  MCHM simply hasn’t been tested to see what the health effects are.  The toxic profile for the compound at CDC’s ATDSR does not exist.  NIOSH doesn’t have much  more information on it. The most thorough analysis of what it might do is populated by small studies, or none at all.
  • What do you mean the stuff hasn’t been tested!!!???? Welcome to to Grover Norquist’s “smaller government,” to John Boehner’s and Mitch McConnell’s “reduced regulation,” to Rick Perry’s “states’ rights” world.  Way back in 1962 Rachel Carson warned about the proliferation of newly-devised chemicals being loosed into the environment, when we really had no historical knowledge of what the stuff would do to humans who ran into it, nor to other life forms, nor even inanimate things like rocks, wood and metal.  A decade later, the founders of the Environmental Protection Agency entertained the idea that a federal agency would be responsible for assuring that chemical substances would be tested for safety, both old substances and new.  For a couple of decades Congress supported that mission, until it became clear that there are simply too many new compounds and too great a backlog to test all, thoroughly.That world of making chemists and big companies responsible for their chemical children began to crumble in the Reagan administration, and is mostly abandoned now.  Chemical juveniles may run as delinquent as they would, with EPA and all other agencies essentially powerless to do anything — unless and until tragedy.  Even where EPA, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and all branches and twigs of the Department of Homeland Security, designate something as hazardous and deserving of care in handling, a state like Texas will ignore the rules on a substance until an accident blows half of West, Texas, to Hell, Michigan, with loss of life and enormous property destruction.  Afterward, victims get left bereft of aid to rebuild, and wondering who they might look to, to look out for them, to prevent such a horrible occurrence in the future.

So it goes, the nation blundering along from one tragedy, until the next.

Through most of American history, great tragedies produced great reforms.  No longer.  The Great Red State of West Virginia is dependent on federal largesse to get water to drink, at enormous expense and waste of time, talent and money.  Meanwhile, West Virginia’s Members of Congress conspire in Washington, D.C., to strip federal agencies from any power to even worry about what may be poisoning West Virginians.

Gov. Tomblin’s speedy action may seem out of place, not because there is great danger, but because he’s acting to protect public health without a mass of dead bodies in view to justify his actions.  We don’t see that much anymore (Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott didn’t cancel appointments to get to West, Texas to even offer sympathy, but instead scheduled weekend jaunts after it was clear the fire was out and there was no danger.  The good people of West did not greet them with a hail of rotten tomatoes, but thanked them for their concern.  Americans are nothing if not polite.)

I was struck with the news last night because I could find no report of just what was the chemical that leaked into the rivers.  This morning we finally learned it was MCHM.  In the depths of some of those stories, we also learn that the leak may have been going on for some time.  Though thousands of gallons of the stuff are missing, the concentrations in the river suggest not much is leaking now . . . the rest leaked earlier, and is already water under the bridge south of Charleston.

What do you think state and federal authorities should do in this case?  What do you think will actually happen?

More:

Update January 12, 2014:  JRehling got it right:


Annals of Global Warming: Polar vortex, explained in two minutes

January 10, 2014

As captioned in the Boston Globe:   Reuters  Frozen breath formed ice around the face of a Minneapolis resident on Wednesday.

As captioned in the Boston Globe: Reuters photo.  Frozen breath formed ice around the face of a Minneapolis resident on Wednesday.

2013 will probably rank as one of the top 10 hottest years in human history, and 2014 is on track to join 2013.

You wouldn’t know that from the denialists and those in thrall to them, who claim freak snow storms and historic cold show warming has stopped — though the snow and cold are caused by a breakdown in the jetstream and a slipping of the polar vortex, probably caused by global warming.

A two-minute explanation, from White House Science Advisor John Holdren:

White House description:

Published on Jan 8, 2014

President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, explains the polar vortex in 2 minutes—and why climate change makes extreme weather more likely going forward. Learn more at http://wh.gov/climate-change. January 8, 2014.

More: 


Blog carnivals? The Carnival of Evolution lives on!

January 1, 2014

Carnival of Evolution #67 is up at The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks.

Carnival of Evolution, No. 67 — Wallace centenary edition

Carnival of Evolution #67 at Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks - Alfred Russel Wallace  Centenary Edition

Carnival of Evolution #67 at Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks – Alfred Russel Wallace Centenary Edition

Charles Darwin’s Tree of Life metaphor (from 1859) has become world-famous. However, Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently developed the idea of evolution by means of natural selection, had already used a very similar image in 1855, when he noted: “the analogy of a branching tree [is] the best mode of representing the natural arrangement of species … a complicated branching of the lines of affinity, as intricate as the twigs of a gnarled oak … we have only fragments of this vast system, the stem and main branches being represented by extinct species of which we have no knowledge, while a vast mass of limbs and boughs and minute twigs and scattered leaves is what we have to place in order, and determine the true position each originally occupied with regard to the others”.

This past year has been one in which many people commemorated the death of Wallace (1823-1913), and so it seems appropriate to join them for the final summary of 2013′s posts at the Carnival of Evolution.

Wallace spent 1848-1852 collecting in the Amazon, and 1854-1862 doing the same in South-East Asia. He is best known today for his studies of biogeography, but he also worked on what we now call environmental issues, and even what is now known as exobiology. More controversially, he also involved himself in social criticism, and atheistic spiritualism. At his death, he was as well known as any living biologist; but since then he has sadly been eclipsed by Darwin.

Blog carnivals have fallen out of favor, it seems to me; but this is one that lay people can use to better understand evolution and the real issues that scientists discuss about evolution.  You’ll want to read several of the stories and posts in this collection:

All in all, it’s a pretty good collection of stuff.  Go see.

Another reason to visit this collection of blog posts on evolution:  You can be fairly certain that you’ll encounter few Republicans or Tea Party members in the comment threads.

More:

Unlikely, but were Darwin and Wallace ever photographed together?  Anyone know?


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