Saturday, January 23, 2010

Trieste: 50 Years Ago

On 23 January, 1960, the bathyscaphe Trieste propelled Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, which at more than 10,900m (35,800ft) down is the deepest spot in the ocean.
BBC has a report on both the amazing (and extraordinarily dangerous) events of 50 years ago today, and the marine biology that is currently being carried out in oceanic trenches around the world. The lead graphic has a number of embedded videos, about a minute to minute-and-a-half each, which I watched yesterday, but I didn't get around to reading the article until just a moment ago.

I don't feel the same wistfulness about our apparently lack of a modern "manned deep-sea exploration program" as I do about our lack of a manned deep space program. A life support failure in the trench environment would kill people even faster than a similar breach in space. So not only is putting a person in that environment extremely difficult and expensive, it's unnecessarily risky. And while the logistics of sample retrieval are not trivial, neither are they outrageously difficult. The bottom is, at a maximum, 10 or 11 km away from the surface. For biological purposes, studying the fauna in situ makes more sense anyway.

On the other hand, consider the following image of a rock on Mars, posted today at Red Orbit, which I set aside earlier with the idea of posting it as the "Frustrating Rock Photo of the Day."
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity examined a rock called "Marquette Island" from mid-November 2009 until mid-January 2010. Studies of texture and composition suggest that this rock, not much bigger than a basketball, originated deep inside the Martian crust. A crater-digging impact could have excavated the rock and thrown it a long distance, to where Opportunity found it along the rover's long trek across the Meridiani plain toward Endeavour Crater.
(Click here for full size) A second with a rock hammer, and one could have both a fresh (unpolished) surface, and a hand sample for a thin section and detailed chemical analysis. I'm assuming this is some sort of peridotite or eclogite, and I assume that this conclusion was reached on the basis of chemical analysis that the rover carried out. Why frustrating? I'd love to know more about the Martian mid crust, and this picture tells me next to nothing. It's coated with dust, so I can see neither mineral grains nor textures. There seems to be a faint fan-shaped lineation from the lower right of the sample to the upper left, which suggests a shatter cone. That would be consistent, but without the ability to turn it for differing illuminations and a three dimensional perspective, the pattern is so faint that I'm not really confident in my observation. How would this compare to rocks from a similar position in the earth's crust? How would it differ? So many questions! And all I have is a danged photo, which tells me next to nothing about this rock.

So is it more important to learn more about the deepest ocean floor or about rocks on Mars? That's the totally wrong question: it's important to learn about both, and it's impossible for me to objectively rank which one is "more" important. This amazing universe in which we find ourselves is worthy of trying to comprehend... whatever it takes. If it can be done effectively with remotely operated vehicles, that's super. If not, send a person.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Get Some Balls!

I have seen this video posted in a number of places, but I finally took time to watch it over at Ornery Bastard's place. Actually, it wasn't until I read that post that it registered what the joke was. This little faux commercial is actually pretty well done, and put a little more energy back into me, after 10 days or so of awful, awful news.

Iris asked me earlier what it was going to take to get the dems to find their nuts; my response was that they didn't have any. In fact, they didn't have ovaries, either. They're just little plastic Barbie and Ken dolls- they dress like humans, but are utterly neuter underneath it all.

If only Balls did come in bottles. Maybe we should start sending Ball's (canning) jars to our supposed Democratic supposed representatives?

Arcs and Haloes

From The Cloud Appreciation Society's Blog/Gallery, near Silvercreek Colorado © Jay Brazel.

I've been sitting on this for a couple of days, wondering what to do with it. There was a faint halo yesterday, with a bit of a rainbow effect along the zenith, but this display is beyond belief.

I Agree

Joie De Vivre


Pretty much sums it all up...

Via Kottke

Thursday, January 21, 2010


This is an amazing gif animation of a shock wave propagating out from a volcanic explosion, converted from video imagery at Sakurajima Volcano, Japan. (Click for 750 X 500 pixels, or over to the link for the source, and lots of other info and pictures)As the shock wave passes through a mass of nearly water-saturated air, it compresses and heats up. My suspicion is that it's too quick to loose any heat radiatively, but that the low pressure behind the shock wave is caused by rebound, as shown below.
Other things to look for are the bombs tossed out by the blast- notice they emerge from the ash cloud. As the explosion occurs, the gasses and ash are moving fastest: the rocks are massive, and are much more difficult to accelerate. However, drag from the air above the crater rapidly slows the ash and gas cloud, so the bombs catch up, and emerge from the dark gray edge. Also notice the small wisps of ash kicked up from the ground around the crater as these bombs kick up the volcanic dust from previous eruptions. Very cool, and one more reason to be thankful for (relatively) cheap electronic cameras we can put remotely in harms way. This is not something you'd really want to see in person.


Via Balloon Juice, The Philadelphia Metro posted this picture...
I suppose if you value the senate at negative 100%, you can make a case that -49% is in fact greater than -59%. But I don't think that's what they mean. I think they're just clueless.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One Year

Today marks the one year anniversary of Obama's inauguration. I've seen this pointed out in a (surprisingly) few places, but of course the big news is the Massachusetts special election, and the Republican's now overwhelming 41-59 majority.

As an aside, we started a year ago with a 41-58 Republican majority. Specter switched sides (heh-heh) sometime last spring. and Franken was finally granted his Senate seat sometime in late June/early July. We saw essentially no legislative progress during the first six months and less during the second. The Republicans have made it clear that they will fight tooth and nail against anything, anything, other than tax cuts for the wealthy, taxpayer support for their corporate contributors, and cutting off "entitlements." And they've been quite successful in furthering their agenda for the past 30 years.

The Democrats, on the other hand, are bound and determined to try to compromise with "no." It's like a Monty Python sketch: The Shopkeeper and the Barterer.
Shopkeeper (Michael Palin) is standing in an art gallery, behind a counter near a cash register. Barterer (Terry Jones) enters, smiles at S, and walks over to a large painting. S returns the smile, and approaches B and the painting.

B: This is a fine painting you have here. What are you asking?

S: It's a steal at 200 Pounds, sir.

B: I'll take it off your hands for free.

S: Oh, you are quite the connoisseur, sir, but I couldn't possibly let it go for less than a hundred pounds.

B: Hmm... on closer investigation, I think it might be worth as much as... nothing.

S: You do drive a hard bargain sir, but my family and I do need to eat. 50?

B: 25?

S: (Delighted) 25 it is, sir! Shall I wrap it for you, or would you like to arrange delivery?

B: On second thought, 25 sounds just a bit high. Hmmm... I would be happy to remove this from the premises at no cost at all, effective immediately.

S: (Downcast, looks up from the floor hopefully) 10 pounds?

B: No, I think that's still a bit high. Zero.

S: Five?

B: Nada

S: Two-fifty?

B: Zilch

S: OK, this is my final offer: one.

B: (pauses, and wrinkles his brow in consideration) Look, it would help if you'd make some effort to meet me halfway. So here are our current positions; nothing and nothing. Let's find the middle ground.

S: (ponders, then looks up with a conspiratorial smile) ...Okay, then. Nothing it is. Would you like that wrapped, or would you like to arrange delivery?

B: Oh, neither, I think. (B proceeds to smash the frame and rip the painting to shreds, leaving the debris on the floor. B then starts toward the shop door)

S: Do have a pleasant afternoon, Sir! Always a pleasure doing business with you!

(Just before B reaches the door, it opens, and wearing a Bobby uniform...)

Obama: (leans into the shop) Did I hear a disturbance? Is there a problem here?

B & S (together) Of course not, officer!

S: (Smiling widely) Just concluding a transaction with my best customer!

Obama: (Nodding sternly) Good then! Carry on.

(Obama and B exit shop door, S returns to counter and register, still beaming)
This is what I've seen in US politics over the last year- even the last six months, in which the Democrats have supposedly had an unstoppable supermajority. Do you understand why I don't assign a whole lot of importance to the MA results? It will make No. Difference. Whatsoever. Further, all the pundits moaning or delighting over "What this means" no more know what they're talking about than do fortune tellers and their tea leaves and knuckle bones.

The reason I started this post was to point out two pieces I've read today that I think do a good job of summing up my attitude toward this, Obama's first anniversary in office. First is Krugman:
Maybe House Democrats can pull this out, even with a gaping hole in White House leadership. Barney Frank seems to have thought better of his initial defeatism. But I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.
And the other is at The Dean's Office:
I don't pretend to speak for all liberals, but here's how I see the breakdown on some of the major issues confronting the country and why it becomes clear that many, many of us have become completely disillusioned with the democratic party.

OPTIMUM POSITION: Single payer health insurance provided to all legal citizens financed through higher taxes on the wealthy, drug importation allowed.
COMPROMISE POSITION: Government provided national public option coupled with insurance company regulation that would broaden coverage and drive down prices to those in private insurance plans.
LOW-BAR: Medicare expansion coupled with new insurance company regulation.
He then goes through Iraq, Banking/Finance, Gay Rights and Economy with the same three positions... and guess what? Obama clears the low bar on all of them! Yay, change we can believe in.

So in short, I congratulate Obama for completing his first year in office, and I look forward to his first successful year in office.

Lockwood is not in as pissy a mood as he was this morning. I had fun with the captions in the previous post and the (wholly unanticipated) sketch above; the idea came to me as I was writing "compromise with no." When the world hands you a merdburger avec fromage, laugh at the absurdity of a merdburger avec fromage, and the elegant manner in which it was presented.

Flotation Devices

D-cap is having a caption contest! I love caption contests! Here's the picture:And here's my entry:Followup: Nuts! I went over to post a link, and another commenter had already posted essentially the same caption! 'Skuse me folks... I'm gonna go cogitate and perform some more paint.nettery. BRB.

Followup, a few minutes later... Here you go! Three for the price of one, and worth every penny you paid for them...


Followup: I guess I really needed a humor break, even more than I knew. Here's another:

The IPCC Was Wrong About Indian Glaciers

Therefore they must be wrong about everything else. Crisis over. Move along... nothing to see here folks.You just know they photoshopped those pictures. Or reversed the dates. Or something. Anyways, it's all lies. No need for any of that stupid "alternative" energy. Move along.

Fake News

Remember this photo, from a few months back, which won the £10,000 prize for the best wildlife photo of the year?
It was staged; the wolf was tame, and loaned from a wildlife park.

Also, you may have heard,

Scott Brown Wins Mass. Race, Giving GOP 41-59 Majority in the Senate

(Via Michael Tomasky's Blog)

Looting in Haiti? Shut your yap. What would you do if you had no food, no water, no shelter, and no expectation that these might show up in the foreseeable future? Would you sit there patiently and watch your family starve or die of exposure and dehydration? Ya think you might consider breaking into the local market? Yeah, me too. Would you describe that as "looting", or as "fighting to survive"? Yeah, me too. I'm glad to see others pointing this out.

Let's see... oh yeah, earthquake swarm in Yellowstone. Everything to the east is going to be blown into the Atlantic, everything else into the Pacific. Tidy. No need for a relief or aid effort. Of course the so-called "experts" in their ivory frigging towers have different ideas. But then they have a vested interest in seeing North America go "foom." Never, ever trust anyone who actually has spent time studying something. Causes bias.

Lockwood is in a pissy mood this morning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Well, Shoots!

So here is my obligatory early-year gloat post. Even though January is barely half over, the first spring shoots are popping up here in my dreary- but balmy- little burg. Keep in mind that Toronto, Ontario is at a latitude of 43 degrees 40 minutes; Corvallis is at a latitude of 44 33, about a degree farther north. The difference of course is that there's a fairly large body of relatively warm water just a little west of where I currently sit. The Pacific Ocean is anything but pacific at this time of year, but it does do a fine job of keeping our winter temperatures quite peaceful overall, thank you. All the pictures will get at least a little bigger if you click on the green parts.I just noticed these this morning... if I remember correctly, they will grow up to be bluebells. Ferns stay green year-round here, and actually weather even severe cold spells without dying back.
I first noticed these last Thursday or Friday. I have no idea what they're called, but I'm pretty sure they're related to the eastern Jack-in-the-pulpits. The leaves are similar, and their flowers are kind of similar too, but without the outer sheath, or "pulpit." Just a naked little jack. The one time I've noticed the fruit, it's pretty similar as well: little red berries on the stalk. These are common landscaping plants here, and very nice for winter and spring green. But the leaves will have died back by mid-June.
These will eventually be daffodils...
...and so will these. Also too, Celina says her tulips are coming up.

Anyone else noticing any signs of incipient spring yet? Any of my British or mainland European readers?

Just to make the point, here's our average January temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit, from here:
Jan 1-12: 46
Jan 13-18: 47
Jan 19: 48
Jan 20-21: 47
Jan 22-29: 48
Jan 30-31 49

Right now, according to NWS/NOAA, it's 58. And according to the window, it's sunny. Nice day, nice plants. Yay Spring!


I've mentioned this cave a number of times, but I think this is the first time I've seen video of the stunning crystals. I can't post it here, but it's available in an article at BBC.
Mexico's Cave of Crystals stunned geologists when it was first discovered in 2000. The underground chamber contains some of the largest natural crystals ever found - some of the selenite structures have grown to more than 10m long. Professor Iain Stewart got a rare glimpse of the subterranean spectacle while filming for the new BBC series How the Earth Made Us.
Another quote that particularly got my attention was this one:
We kept on being told how difficult it was going to be to film in the Naica Cave, but nothing really prepares you for the extremes of that cavern.

It's about 50C in there, but it's the virtually 100% humidity added on top that makes it a potential killer.

That combination means that when you breathe air into your body, the surface of your lungs is actually the coolest surface the air encounters. That means the fluid starts to condense inside your lungs - and that's really not good news.
50C is about 122F. This is probably not a place in which I would survive even a brief visit.

It also caused to to wonder, as I have many times before, why we humans perceive beauty in the places, things and forms we do. Another post I'm planning on getting up later has an easy explanation: the first shoots of spring, in the middle of winter, I perceive as beautiful because they offer a promise of an end to cold, wet weather. Biologically, winter is the most difficult season to survive. Food is scarce, and not all that long ago, so were dependable sources of warmth. So psychologically, it makes sense that, even though it's still winter, I would feel an attraction to a symbol of better times to come.

But giant crystals? Galaxies? Nebulae? What is it in prehistoric human experience that has predisposed me to find beauty in these things?

What I Think

Context here.

Bullet Time

From TYWKIWDBI, an amazing picture of an owl in flight. Click over for a description of some of the physical features of owls that make them such effective predators.

Outrage Fatigue

Nation’s Liberals Suffering From Outrage Fatigue

Ain't it the truth.
"With so many right-wing shams to choose from, it's simply too daunting for the average, left-leaning citizen to maintain a sense of anger," said Rachel Neas, the study's director. "By our estimation, roughly 70 percent of liberals are experiencing some degree of lethargy resulting from a glut of civil-liberties abuses, education funding cuts, and exorbitant military expenditures."
Once again, The Onion nails the news. The punchline? The date on this piece is July 7, 2004. Which means it's probably saying more about the populist mindset than anything about "news." This angry indignation has permeated both sides of the political spectrum, and I think for many of the same reasons: unending war, fear mongering, income uncertainty and disparity, resentment of the powerful corporate network that can capriciously destroy lives and livelihoods at the drop of a pin in the name of multimillion executive bonuses... on and on. The talking points and proposed remedies may be different, but I think the root causes are the same.

A phrase I've been using a lot in conversation lately is, "My outrage-o-meter is burned out." I think The Onion has been eavesdropping on my conversations.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Comic JK

Funnies aside, I have to say that as I get older, I'm paying more and more attention to holidays. I don't generally "celebrate" them as such, but I ponder them and think about their importance. What are we really celebrating? Today we should reflect on the enormous impact and importance of the life and work of Martin Luther King. As I said to another coffee drinker a few minutes ago, if not for his work, we'd certainly have a different president in the US today.

Think about that. An entirely different time line, an entirely different history. It's unknowable what the situation would be in that alternative world, but it would be very different. I suspect it was unimaginable to people my generation and older that a black man would be elected president during our lifetimes; I know it was for me just a few years ago.

It's not as if we don't have a lot further to go, as if we have accomplished everything that needs to be accomplished, but I do think it's worth noting and celebrating how far we've come in the last 50 years.

I had never before sat down and read the text of MLK's "I have a dream" speech. I prefer to read speeches rather than watch them. Reading gives me the option to re-read easily and quickly, to make sure I'm getting to the marrow of meaning before I move on to the next sentence or paragraph. Not saying reading is better, just that that's what works best for me.

It gives me goosebumps.

The Christian Science Monitor has the text of the entire speech and a selection of quotes, a few of which are below, in this article.
• I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant. –Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964

• Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.

• I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

• I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

I may or may not get around to watching this today, but if you'd rather watch the speech than read it, here's the vidclip.

This has been an unexpectedly quiet and slow weekend around my favorite coffee shop. I've never really been aware of people actually treating MLK Day as a three-day weekend, so it sort of got my attention this year in a way that it hasn't before. It started me a-pondering... and I'm kind of glad it did. I'll likely paste on other bits and pieces I come across in my reading today that move or amuse me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Remi Gaillard

The infamous French prankster is apparently celebrating 10 years of pissing off the cheese-eating surrender monkeys. Especially their police, judging by this retrospective.

I have posted a couple of his prank clips before, and I'm fairly certain that with each, I've said "If he tried this in the US, he would be so shot dead. Or tried as a terrorist if he managed to survive."

Today's Trivia

On an average day in West Virginia, about 3 million pounds of explosives are detonated during the process of mountain top removal to exhume coal seams. That's the energy equivalent of 3 Hiroshima-sized explosions every month. Money line: "I feel that the US Congress should maybe send a registered letter to Japan next August saying, 'See? Really, it wasn’t anything personal.'" Via A Tiny Revolution.

One addendum: I'm not an expert, but mining often uses the diesel/ammonium nitrate explosive. It's cheap, and relatively safe to handle and transport.

Don't Do This of the Day

Very funny in someone else's kitchen... not so much in your own.

My guess is that the alcohol in the wine started boiling, then the vapor ignited. Hilarity ensues. The slo-mo clip at the end is worth sticking around for. Yay, 'splodey stuff that doesn't hurt anybody!

All of James Cameron's Movies

in a few minutes:

Sigourney Weaver is still hawt.

Sunday Funnies

Some of today's funnies just kill me...
Oddly SpecificLuke Surl
EpicPonyzDarius Whiteplume's Tumblr
Skull Swap
engrish funny prohibit shit
see more Engrish
engrish funny don't sign
Yeah, that'll do it. see more Engrish
Oddly Specific
Probably Bad News
José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
see more Political Pictures
tommy lee jones
see more Lol Celebs
engrish funny humility comity
see more Engrish
The Daily What
see more deMotivational Posters
The Daily What
epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

All The President's Emails, from The Guardian (and there's another one at the link)

To: Gale Rossides, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration Subject: Re: Security screening measures

Gale, thanks for sending me the results of your interdepartmental brainstorming session on new ideas for airport security in the post-underpants era. I'm afraid "stop people wearing underpants" just isn't gonna fly, and "stop people carrying explosives in their underpants" is something we should be doing already, if you think about it. And as for "make everyone turn on their laptops in case they contain files explaining how to hide a bomb in your underpants" . . . I do understand that you're trying, but you're going to have to try harder. Disappointedly, Barack

To: Gordon Brown Subject: Re: Maintaining a united front during this crisis

Wait, what? No, no, no. I'm talking about the underpants bomber crisis. Which crisis are you talking about? I heard about some kind of leadership challenge over there, but your email seems to be entirely concerned with the weather. Thanks for letting me know that you had a few inches of snow over there — it reminds me of Chicago on a mild winter day! Barack

To: Gale Rossides, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration Subject: Re: OK then, what about stopping people carrying pencil cases, in case there is a pair of exploding underpants hidden inside?

Not that either. Sorry. BHO

Luke Surl
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
jon bon jovi
see more Lol Celebs
Noise to Signal
The Joy Of Tech
see more deMotivational Posters
Cyanide and Happiness
Friends of Irony
Amazing Super Powers
The second from the bottom is the one that cracks me up... why would you search for that? Autocomplete Me
Picture is Unrelated
epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails
Friends of Irony
PHD Comics
I Hate My Parents
stephen hawking
see more Political Pictures
homeless man
see more Political Pictures
It's as easy as walking downhill! Criggo
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures
Guilty as charged. Chuck & Beans

DUBAI—Representatives from the emirate of Dubai announced with disappointment this week that its recent debt crisis has forced developers to halt construction on the city's long-planned 22-mile-long indoor mountain range.
The Onion
Mischievous Raccoon Wreaks Havoc On International Space Station
The Onion
“If you ever get bit by a radioactive peacock, you might die–or you might turn into a superhero with the most fabulous costume ever.”
But they're organic donuts, and that's OK, right? Probably Bad News
News you need to know, right now! The Daily What
I think I would have enjoyed being Gabe's classmate, but maybe not having him in my classroom. Epic Win
I think I know what this is in reference to, and I think the caption is probably accurate. But this doesn't do anything to burnish the reputation of journalism in Oregon. The Daily Irritant.
This is AWESOME! Skull Swap
I think knot, from Regretsy; below, Helen Killer's reaction:

ChannelATE, via The Daily What
Probably Bad News
Then his boss told him to find another job... Oddly Specific
Cyanide and Happiness
"Congratulations, Ma'am, it's a Skeleton." Ugliest Tattoos
I felt pretty much the same way at that age. EpicPonyz
I think this is the funniest thing I saw all week, and I love that Piraro used the word "gastropod" rather than "snail." BizarroBlog
God Hates Protesters
I've had bosses with those qualities. For short periods of time. Criggo
Acting Like Animals
funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures
The Daily What
Very Demotivational
Umm, yeah. Spell check, spacing... the evidence is all there. Ugliest Tattoos
Methinks they protested enough. Criggo
Going green, but going nowhere. That Will Buff Out
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
"What kind of trickery is this?" Acting Like Animals