Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Four-Eared Cat

They call him Yoda. "To hear you better with, they are" Actually, according to the article, the extra pair of ears consists just of the external flaps, one behind each of the normal ears, and do not have any apparent effect on the kitty's hearing. Full article and very kewl picture here.

Lieberman? Srsly?

Just saw a little while ago that McCain tagged Lieberman for his VP post. Well. I hadn't really taken those rumors seriously. Honestly, I have been getting very fed up with all the VP speculation on both sides. The VP has no real role, other than breaking ties in the Senate. He's mostly symbolic... well, unless he's actually President, as in Cheney's case.

But the fact is, one of McCain's big problems is that he is viewed with great suspicion by the far right- which has, for the last couple of cycles, been the real "base" of the Republicans. The dems have fielded a couple of tepid, uninspiring candidates in Gore and Kerry, and people have looked at Shrub and basically felt more of a personal connection to him. (I'm overlooking the fact that most middle of the spectrum voters, as best as I can tell, simply ignore stated policy) But McCain has to able to count on the far right to turn out for him as they did for Shrub; then he can sell his "maverick" "straight-talk" schtick to the middle. (I'm overlooking the fact that this "maverick" has voted with Smirky/Snarly 95% of the time, and that every time he actually delivers straight talk, he makes the most incredible gaffs that the media then must find some way to ignore)

But the point is, Lieberman is known first and foremost at this point for supporting the Iraq war. Second, as a dem that went independent after loosing his primary, then winning his Senate seat back. Third, as Gore's VP choice. He will upset the solid righties, who will be unable to accept that he's a dino (democrat in name only). He will upset those in the middle, who are solidly against the war. JD points out that it might be good for the Jewish vote, though I don't have the sense that Lieberman is terribly popular among Jews. He has been solidly pro-choice, which is an enormous strike against him from the conservative perspective. It's not clear to me what McCain sees Lieberman bringing to the table with him. I can only imagine many of the Conservative punditry is gnashing their teeth right now, trying to figure out how to put lipstick and mascara on this sow.

I, on the other hand, am not entirely displeased with the choice.

Followup: Apparently, I misinterpreted the discussion I was sort of half watching on CNN. McCain (as best I can tell) has not announced Lieberman as his choice. What he has been doing is asking GOP leadership what they'd think about a pro-choice VP. Which points at Lieberman or Ridge. From McCain's position, I think Ridge would be a better choice- I think he got a raw deal as head of Homeland defense, a monsterous bureaucratic mash-up assembled like Frankenstein's creature, with no consideration of outcomes. From my perspective, I hope he picks Lieberman.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Lightning

By some odd synchronicity, I have had a bunch of posts on weather, particularly lightning, in the last week or so.

We almost never have lightning here because the air during hot weather is too dry. Hot, humid air is "unstable;" when it rises, it decompresses and cools. As it cools, water condenses. The latent heat of phase transformation heats the rising parcel of air compared to the stationary air around it. So it wants to rise more. This positive feedback process can force a rising column of air to rise up to 30-35 thousand feet, approximately the transition between the troposphere (the lower, mixing layer, where temperatures generally fall with increasing altitude) and the stratosphere (the next higher level, where temperatures generally rise with increasing altitude: this means the stratosphere tends not to mix very much. Colder, lower layers wil not rise into warmer overlying layers). The condensation in the troposphere leads to precipitation, and friction between water droplets leads to electric charges building up, which leads to lightning.

It was clear on Friday and Saturday that the humidities were much higher than normal. Dewpoints were in the low 60's, which, while not unheard of, don't normaly come with the high temperatures we were having at the time. Typically, when we have our hottest weather, the air is moving in from the Eastern Oregon desert, and it's very very dry. (Last summer, I saw what I believe is the lowest relative humidity I've ever experienced: 8%. I could feel my eyes wrinkling up like transparent rasins.)

Saturday night we had what I believe is the best lightning storm I've ever seen in Corvallis. Well, bummer, I thought I had saved the radar images from the two episodes, but all that I've got is the grid outlines. Oh well.
The first storm came through just after midnight; a lot of cloud-to-cloud lightning, but no ground strikes until the storm reached the line of hills about seven miles north of the middle of town. As the main body of the storm passed over, there was a pretty solid downpour that tapered off pretty quickly. It wasn't as intense as a midwest downpour, but good for Western Oregon. The second storm passed over about 1:30. Not as much precipitation, but lots of ground strikes, including one that had to be within a block of me. FLASHBOOM!
Sunday was much, much cooler and cloudier than predicted (The original prediction had been about 90). The Weather Channel claimed we had reached 82, but I had been keeping an eye on the toolbar temperature gadget all day and I never saw higher than 78. It was an enormous relief over Saturday's 100. Sunday night, no storms, but it was flickering and grumbling all night with occasional drizzle. Great sleeping weather! Yesterday and last night we had a few showers, but the lightning was rare. And today we've had consistent drizzle all afternoon- traditional Western Oregon precipitation.
The Oregonian had an article today about the lightning storms Sunday night and yesterday morning- the storms that hit us Saturday night were fairly tight and didn't hit Portland, so they didn't report on those. The highlight of this article is the animation of the lightning strikes over a period of an hour and a half or two Sunday night.
It's difficult to explain why I get so excited about a good storm- especially to those who get them all the time. But while I appreciate the overall temperate nature of our weather here, I often miss the awe-inspiring power that a good storm can put on display. There's also the relief from what, to me, is the physical torture of 90+ temperatures. Our environment is so parched at this time of year, and the smell of moisture and damp ground, of plants almost swooning with relief, is like perfume to me. Then there's the sounds: the gentle sussuration of the rain on leaves is so soothing and relaxing. Like I say, I never sleep better than during a nice rain.
If I can get over my excitement and actually sleep, rather than staying up to absorb every minute of the spectacle that I can.

Classic Bugs

So I don't spend a lot of time searching through YouTube; as I've mentioned before, I occasionally watch (and borrow) others' posted clips, but I don't go looking for them.

That may change. It never occurred to me that they would have Bugs Bunny cartoons archived there. Do they even show the old classic Looney Toons on telebision [sic] anymore- I mean they gotta promote stuff that sells tie-in merchandise, and superheroes that will get made into blockbluster [sic] movies, right? Who cares if the cartoons are actually entertaining? Warner Brothers used to...

Time-Lapse Eclipse

Couple of cool multi-exposure pictures from the recent eclipse (See posts here and here). The first is from Earth Science Picture of the Day today(let's call that a scite- see here for explanation; I've generally been pretty impressed with their choices). Full-sized version here. The second highlights Baily's beads, which are the result of sunlight shining through low places- "valleys-" as the moon-sun alignment approaches and moves away from the total eclipse. From Astronomy Picture of the Day (a previous scite), yesterday. Full size here. And just think, only nine years and two days before I get to see this first-hand for myself.

Irony Alert

A meeting of global warming deniers has been postponed due to the havoc wrought by tropical storm Fay. Another link to the same story.

I haven't seen enough information to be totally convinced of the global warming/stronger tropical storm connection (note that generally it is not claimed that warming will increase the number of tropical storms, just their intensity), but from what I do know, it is a logical and plausible connection. Not that Fay has turned out to be a particularly intense storm.

A couple of things about the picture- I looked around for a picture of an iron, and got tired of sites wanting me to pay $15 and up to use a few thousand pixels. What a freaking racket. This was lifted from an advertisement here. (If anyone has a problem with anything I post or use here, let me know. I'm polite and generally inclined to be cooperative) Which actually, when I read the plug, turned out to be pretty interesting. It's a butane-powered iron; you light it with a match. Meaning you don't need electricity. Great for tidying up when the power goes out, or when you're camping- if you thought to bring an ironing board with you.

Also, the base plate is made of aluminum, so technically this is an aluminum, not an iron. But the title "Aluminumy Alert" didn't strike me as real catchy.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Demise of the Golden Arches Theory

Nearly 12 years ago, NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman propounded the so-called "Golden Arches Theory:" no two countries that each had at least one McDonalds had ever gone to war. This fact became well established in pop culture; in 2004 Lazyboy TV used it as one of their background spoken facts in the song "Facts of Life." My mother has informed me of this fact several times, so it's known across the age spectrum.

Sadly, it is no longer true. Both Russia and Georgia have McDonalds.

There's nothing you can trust. Get used to it.

Fungus: The Aliens Among Us

A rawtha kewl time-lapse video of fungi going about their buisiness. It is interesting to me that when we can watch organisms that seem static on our time scale, not only do they move, they often seem to have volition.

No Running on the Swimming Pool

Most of you, especially the younger crowd, are familiar with oobleck. The name comes from a Dr. Suess Book about a most unusual weather event, but it's applied to a mixture of two common substances: cornstarch and water. When these two are mixed together in the right ratio (I think it's about two parts water to one part starch by volume, but you can add a little more of whatever seems to be short to get it right) you get what's called a non-Newtonian fluid. In most fluids the rate of deformation in response to pressure is proportional to the amount of pressure. That is, the harder you press on the fluid, the more rapidly it flows. In non-Newtonian fluids, increasing pressure leads to a decreased rate of flow. In other words, increased pressure leads to a rapid increase in viscosity.

Oobleck is a lot of fun to play with, though the childish name that's tacked on to it is a little grating to me. Why not just call it "cornstarch and water?" Do we assume children will be be uninterested if we don't give it a silly name? But the activity is a favorite of elementary teachers (you don't need to know any science to do it, and it's safe), and the name is pretty much fixed, I think. Typically, the mix is made up, sometimes with coloring for nice effects and the kids play with it. Typically, no real science is done with either (as you can see from the first paragraph, the core concepts are not elementary- though there are descriptive and predictive aspects that could be addressed that generally aren't). And typically, only a few cups total are enough for a classroom of kids.

But what could you do if you had a whole swimming pool of the stuff?