Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Baird Family Pic

From last weekend when we were all at a, wait for it, baby shower. I was the only non-xUSSR, nonRussian speaker. I ended up playing with the kids. Ah well. IDK what I was looking at in this pic. It wasn't the photographer!

Modern Mammalian Heterodonty Arose at Least Twice

A newly discovered species of fossilized mammal from the Jurassic era shows that the basic tooth template shared by all mammals today evolved independently at least twice in the past.

The find also adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that early mammals were much more diverse than previously thought.

Fossilized skeletal remains of the new species, Pseudotribos robustus, were found recently in 165-million-year-old lakebeds in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China. (See a map of the find location.)

From the creature's build and makeup, paleontologists believe that the 4.7-inch-long (12-centimeter-long) creature was a very strong digger that ate insects and plants.

But the biggest news is its choppers.

"This thing is very advanced in terms of its tooth structure," said Richard Cifelli, a paleontologist at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, who was not part of the study.

"It has departed considerably from the ancestral pattern where it could only cut up things; now it can grind things up."

This is the same dental adaptation that is believed to have blossomed in today's mammal lineages. The advent of the cut-and-grind tooth is generally considered the driver for the vast diversity of mammals alive today.

But since Pseudotribos robustus belongs to a different and long-lost lineage, it must have evolved the cut-and-grind tooth independently.


The finding also suggests that early mammals were beginning to diversify much earlier than previously thought.

The first two-thirds of mammalian history takes part in the age of the dinosaurs. During that time it has been thought that mammals remained in much the same form: small, furry, nocturnal, insect-eating animals that skirted around dinosaurs.

"Our general view of what happened is that they didn't really go into any extravagant ecological niches until dinosaurs became extinct," Cifelli said. "Now we're finding that wasn't the case."

Previous fossil finds at the same lakebed show that mammals were already gliding around and swimming as far back as about 165 million years ago.

Along with the new find, the discoveries suggest that mammals underwent tremendous diversification during the middle of the Jurassic period, Cifelli said.

"We're seeing a host of skeletal adaptations that say, hey, mammals were doing these wild and crazy things—they weren't just lying around in their little hidey holes," he added.

"[Pseudotribos robustus] helps to show that the earliest mammals coexisted with the dinosaurs are far more diverse than we ever have imagined," study author Luo said.

I find it interesting that the mammals were very quickly diversifying in the Jurassic too. Were they doing the rebound thing like the dinosaurs were after the Late Triassic Mass Extinction? Or was it that new forms of complexity were enabled with some evolutionary breakthrough? Perhaps one that's not even in the vertebrates at all? Perhaps in the plants?

Orange Coalition Coming Apart...AGAIN!?!

A coalition consisting of President Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) is showing cracks long before the newly elected parliament even has its first meeting, which is expected in late November. There is no unity of opinion among the NUNS ranks on the coalition agreement, which was initialed on October 15. Yushchenko also has rejected several provisions in the accord, mostly those contributed by the BYuT. This means that the chances that the majority in parliament will support Tymoshenko’s nomination for prime minister are dwindling by the day.

oh groan.

Why am I not surprised? The Orangers are such a cantankerous little bunch of children. No wonder that the Blue Team didn't contest the election. They'll just wait a couple months and the Orangers will fall apart. Idiots.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More Republican Poll Tracking

Iowa NH SC
Romney 27% 30% 29%
Giuliani 16% 23% 23%
McCain 14% 17% 13%
Huckabee 19% 7% 5%
Thompson 8% 5% 10%

Iowa NH SC
Clinton 32% 40% 41%
Obama 22% 22% 19%
Edwards 15% 10% 18%
Richardson 7% 5% 1%
Biden 5% 4% 6%

Sample Size: 600 likely voters
Sample Dates: Oct. 26-29, 2007
Margin of error: +/-4%

Stop Dreaming! The KT is NOT the PT!

Alpha: In the Beginning

This is not the original post that I wanted to write. I wanted to specifically cover my rant on YAGUMETs. Or as the rest of you have seen me call them 'Yet Another Grand Unified Mass Extinction Theory', but in the plural. However, since Dr Keller - ever the anti-bollide guerrilla - sent out yet another press release in support of vulcanism as the culprit for the KT Mass Extinction killer, I thought I would shift gears and try to do a comparison of the PT Extinction and KT Extinction events to try to make a point. Since Dr Keller favors vulcanism, I am going to make the assumption for this post that the Permian Extinction, which has been pretty strongly linked to the effects of massive vulcanism, is a 'proven' fact and its signature is the gold standard for vulcanism being the cause. Even though I am thoroughly convinced that the KT Extinction was caused by Chicxulub. I am going to assume we're unproven here and compare the evidence and signatures of the KT to the PT. I will return to the YAGUMETs post for my next big paleo post, but for now, let's get on with the show.

The Permian Extinction was not a pretty picture. I sketch it out here at least moderately well. It was almost certainly caused by the prolonged and quite nasty eruptions of the Siberian Traps, a truly terrifyingly large and prolonged flood basalt eruption. The evidence that supports this had a very distinctive signature: certain events happened and we think we know why. If we use this signature as a baseline for comparing other extinctions to the PT Extinction we really ought to be able to see if that other signature fits the same profile. If it does, then it seems very likely that the extinction was caused by the same mechanism. With that in mind, we'll approach and compare the KT to the PT!

Extinction Pulses

One of the very distinctive and confusing items about the PT Extinction was that it seemed like it was a very long term affair. This was because careful collections and biostratigraphy had not been done until relatively recently. The reason for appearing to be a very drawn out affair was there were actually multiple pulses of mass death. The pattern of pulses looks something like a drum beat that gets louder and fades. In fact, the last pulses take place actually after most of the dying took place and end up geochronologically in the Triassic[1]. It's very, very distinctive and almost certainly a result of the eruptions and their resultant ecological complications tripping past some thresholds. The the multi-pulse extinction attribute seems to be a very important one for vulcanism caused extinctions and makes perfect sense given how it kills. How does this compare to the KT Event's pattern of extinction? The fact of the matter is that it doesn't match at all. There seems to have been a minor mass extinction ten million years prior to the KT Boundary, but it does not seem to have reduced the number of dinosaur genera present and even had the effect of the mammals diversifying. That might be argued that the prior minor extinction might be the first pulse of the KT, but...there's no subsequent pulses into the Cenozoic! The KT Extinction was a quick and bloody affair: there appears to be only a single pulse involved.

Biotic Recovery

The Permian Extinction killed a lot of everything. By some counts as much as 90% of everything died. That included plants, animals, etc. As a result, and also as a consequence of what was changed environmentally because the the Siberian Traps, life took a very long time to recover. There were sections that have no fossils at all. While the extinction was less nasty in the terrestrial environment - approximately 70% of everything died there - beds of the Karoo in South Africa, one of the best places for chronologically uninterrupted PT Event sections, there are no fossils at all for over 5 million years. Life would not recovery the diversity of the Late Permian for a very long time. Delayed biotic recovery would be another good attribute for identifying vulcanism induced extinctions. The KT Extinction had, at the most, a 300k year recovery period. For something that killed 70% of everything, this is remarkably fast and completely unlike the PT Event. The diversity of life would increase very, very fast after the KT Event. This would also lean towards the idea that the KT Extinction had a different mechanism for the root cause.

Climatic Changes

During the PT Event, it appears that the Siberian Traps belched tons of carbon dioxide. This caused a massive upswing in temperature especially with the addition of the forcing caused by methane as well. The upswing appears to have been in the ten Celsius range. While the temperature dropped down, it remained high throughout the Triassic and into the Jurassic. This is supported by the isotope measurements and mineral deposits. On the other hand, the climate that crosses the KT Boundary as geologically recorded seems to be pretty stable. It was warm and stayed warm. There doesn't seem to have been a wild change over a prolonged period as it was with the PT Extinction.

Differences in Marine Biotic Extinctions

One of the most profound differences in the KT and PT Extinctions can be found in what died first and what was most effected in the oceans. During the PT Extinction, the benthic organisms - those that live on the seabed - were effected first AND most severely. As you rose up from the depths of the sea, the extinction got less and less severe - though, truthfully, that's something of a hair's difference, the PT Extinction was just damnably horrible - until you reached the terrestrial environment where it was the least severe. The key point though here is that the benthic environment & ecology was mopped across the floor. The reason for this is that the oxygen level dropped down to a anoxic state and full of hydrogen sulfide: the chemical analyses of the PT sediments support this. The KT Extinction couldn't be more different. The organisms effected the most were those that were those that were living in the euphotic zone: photoplankton, ammonites, the great marine reptiles, etc. The benthic organisms were far less impacted. This is a VERY strong indication that something different happened at each extinction event.

Extinctions in the Terrestrial Realm

In the terrestrial environment the Permian Event seems to have been a little uncertain as to what allowed organisms to survive the Great Dying. Truthfully, not enough research has gone into trying to find some sort of common theme that might unite what survived and what did not here. From the point of view of what is currently known, there is no common theme. It appears currently that the killing didn't favor one type of organism over another. This would be what Raup called a 'Field of Bullets' scenario. It truly remains to be seen though. On the other hand, it appears that at least for KT Event this was rather different. There was a definite pattern involved. At first it was thought that it was a weight limit: no more than 50 kg survived the KT Extinction. That hasn't quite turned out to be true: the cut off wasn't mass or weight, but metabolic requirements. Rather it was a metabolic requirement. If your required more calories than a certain amount - the exact amount uncertain right now - then you got whacked for sure. The prime example of this is the Sebecosuchidae, a form of Mesosuchia (or Mesoeucrocodylia, if you're more accurate). the Sebecosuchidaes were largish terrestrial carnivores that made the cross-over from the Mesozoic to the Cenozoic. IIRC, they were over 6m in length (Darren Naish has an excellent article on the subject at Tetrapod Zoology). This means that there is a definite and solid pattern. The KT Extinction was more selective in what died than the PT Extinction. However, there was still an element of randomness to the groups that were within the surviving criteria; frex, 50% of mammals died out and they were well within the metabolic requirements for survival. Lady Luck still had her due. However, this is still very different than in the PT Extinction as far as the research so far has indicated.

Omega: In the End
Now, I have run out of time. I hope that by detailing some of the differences between the KT Mass Extinction and the PT Mass Extinction. I have tried to avoid the usual arguing points: evidence of impact, charcoal traces, geochronology of the Deccan Traps, etc. I have been trying to point out the other diagnostic characteristics that are often overlooked. The fact of the matter is that these two extinctions killed in very different ways. These two extinctions effected organisms of different types. They cannot be caused by the same mechanism. Extinction events are not just something that has a geochronologically convenient 'explanation.' That explanation has to fit the pattern of that extinction as well as the time frame.

I will do a detailed KT Mass Extinction post in the relatively near future, but that will come after the YAGUMETs post. Now let's see if anyone comes along and beats me with a big stick.

1. Which makes me wonder why it's, well, the Triassic if we are defining the extinction event as the demarker, but I am not a geologist.

Carboniferous Amphibian Body Casts Found

(img credit National Geographic)

Unprecedented fossilized body imprints of amphibians have been discovered in 330 million-year-old rocks from Pennsylvania. The imprints show the unmistakably webbed feet and bodies of three previously unknown, foot-long salamander-like critters that lived 100 million years before the first dinosaurs.

"Body impressions like this are wholly unheard of," said paleontologist Spencer Lucas, a curator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Lucas will present the discovery on Tuesday, 30 October 2007, at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver.

The fossil imprints, while lacking any bones of the animals, actually contain rare information that bones cannot, said Lucas. Without the imprints of the webbed four-toed feet, for instance, it would be virtually impossible to say they were truly amphibians. The imprints also provide body proportions and important clues to the kind of outer skin the little beasts had. The skin is smooth, not armor plated as many would have expected, Lucas said.

The imprints were found in reddish brown, fine-grained sandstone rocks of the Mauch Chunk Formation in eastern Pennsylvania that correspond to what's known as the Visean Age, an early part of the Mississippian Epoch. That, in turn, is part of the Paleozoic Era that stretched from 542 million years ago to 251 million years ago, when the age of reptiles started. The Mauch Chunk is older and therefore located beneath the heavily mined coal beds of Pennsylvania.

Also found in rocks from the same formation and of the same age are footprints of other relatively large animals and fossils of insects and plants, Lucas explained. There is even a saucer-sized footprint of an unknown vertebrate that suggests larger four-footed beasts lived far earlier than ever before suspected.

That's most of the article that I linked to, but here is the abstract.

Monday, October 29, 2007

H.R. 900: Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 Update

Two little updates:

This bill was considered in committee which has recommended it be considered by the House as a whole. Although it has been placed on a calendar of business, the order in which bills are considered and voted on is determined by the majority party leadership.

Apparently, also, there was a change of language such that the Governor of Puerto Rico now has the option of either doing the follow-on plebiscite that was planned before (independence or statehood) should the greater than 50% vote take place or he can call a constitutional convention. There were complaints that the vote was stacked for statehood. (Really?!)

This was screamed and shouted for by the so-called 'Enhanced Commonwealth' crowd, if I understand correctly. Their hope would be that when the original vote takes place that they can be in place in the governorship to try to muscle their way into the convention and control it. The problem being that the Enhanced Commonwealth - really a code phrase (if I may abuse that term) for an independent nation with all the subsidies from and freedoms of free access to the United States. This has been called unconstitutional by virtually every bit of the US government whether its been staffed by either party. I would guess that they are going to try to run the convention to try to get what they want. Never mind that the whole kit-and-caboodle would get dumped. They are, right now, an unincorporated territory which means that they have little or no say in a lot of things. Congress does. We'll see if this doesn't end up a stupid boondoggle now. I seriously hope not.

China Hopes Chang'e Will Pave Way For Lunar Rover

The immediate future of the U.S., European, Japanaese and Chinese space programs is on the line this week as critical human and robotic operations are underway in orbits of the Earth and Moon. As Japan continues its multi-spacecraft Selene mission in lunar orbits, China is poised to send its first spacecraft to the Moon on a mission aided by the European Space Agency (ESA). The space shuttle Discovery is docked at the International Space Station for the most ambitious construction mission yet at the orbital outpost. Meanwhile, ESA is mapping plans to send probes to Jupiter, Saturn, asteroids and the Sun, as India prepares to loft its next-generation launch vehicle for the first time. We detail these advances and what they mean for the future in a special report over the next six pages.

China will take a key step in advancing its space capabilities this week with its Chang’e 1 lunar mission, assuming it can overcome such key challenges as tracking and control in deep space. A successful flight could open the way for China to launch a rover as early as 2012 and return Moon rocks by 2017.

Eventually, China—only the third nation to develop its own means of sending humans into space—may land a crew on the Moon. While no such effort is yet underway, it’s more than a pipe dream. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin has said he believes China will land humans on the Moon before the U.S. returns there with astronauts.

But one step at a time. First, Chang’e 1 has to get out of Earth orbit this week.

It is interesting to see that the pseudo-race that has built up over going to the Moon. The US, Europe, Japan and now China are or are sending probes to the Moon. Russia is talking, but we'll see. It is really kewl to see the whole world sending out probes. While I am definitely guilty of wanting the US to be in the lead, I do want to see some competition: there's little pride when you're the only one in the race...

Friday, October 26, 2007

New NERSC Division Director at LBL

Dr Kathy Yelick. She's a prof at UC Berkeley (she'll be keeping that appointment) and has been the lead of the LBNL Computional Research Division's Future Technologies Group. She's a researcher and has stated that NERSC is going to be doing a lot more research and development. That is a big change. DOE used to label us as a production only site.

New Spicy Chile Champion

Researchers at New Mexico State University recently discovered the world’s hottest chile pepper. Bhut Jolokia, a variety of chile pepper originating in Assam, India, has earned Guiness World Records’ recognition as the world’s hottest chile pepper by blasting past the previous champion Red Savina. In replicated tests of Scoville heat units (SHUs), Bhut Jolokia reached one million SHUs, almost double the SHUs of Red Savina, which measured a mere 577,000.

Dr. Paul Bosland, Director of the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences collected seeds of Bhut Jolokia while visiting India in 2001. Bosland grew Bhut Jolokia plants under insect-proof cages for three years to produce enough seed to complete the required field tests. “The name Bhut Jolokia translates as ‘ghost chile,’” Bosland said, “I think it’s because the chile is so hot, you give up the ghost when you eat it!” Bosland added that the intense heat concentration of Bhut Jolokia could have significant impact on the food industry as an economical seasoning in packaged foods.

Huzzah! Now we have a tasy new one to try. Now, folks, repeat after me: it's chile not chili.

More Support for Vulcanism Causing PT Extinction

The greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history also may have been one of the slowest, according to a study that casts further doubt on the extinction-by-meteor theory.

Creeping environmental stress fueled by volcanic eruptions and global warming was the likely cause of the Great Dying 250 million years ago, said USC doctoral student Catherine Powers.

Writing in the November issue of the journal Geology, Powers and her adviser David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences at USC, describe a slow decline in the diversity of some common marine organisms.

The decline began millions of years before the disappearance of 90 percent of Earth’s species at the end of the Permian era, Powers shows in her study.

More damaging to the meteor theory, the study finds that organisms in the deep ocean started dying first, followed by those on ocean shelves and reefs, and finally those living near shore.

“Something has to be coming from the deep ocean,” Powers said. “Something has to be coming up the water column and killing these organisms.”

That something probably was hydrogen sulfide, according to Powers, who cited studies from the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Arizona and the Bottjer laboratory at USC.

Those studies, combined with the new data from Powers and Bottjer, support a model that attributes the extinction to enormous volcanic eruptions that released carbon dioxide and methane, triggering rapid global warming.

The warmer ocean water would have lost some of its ability to retain oxygen, allowing water rich in hydrogen sulfide to well up from the deep (the gas comes from anaerobic bacteria at the bottom of the ocean).

If large amounts of hydrogen sulfide escaped into the atmosphere, the gas would have killed most forms of life and also damaged the ozone shield, increasing the level of harmful ultraviolet radiation reaching the planet’s surface.

Powers and others believe that the same deadly sequence repeated itself for another major extinction 200 million years ago, at the end of the Triassic era.

I blogged about the PT Extinction and the Late Triassic Extinction before. This seems to be further support for the conclusions drawn.

H.R. 900: Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007 News

So it looks as though the Puerto Rico status change bill has passed through the House Natural Resources Committee. I am unsure based on what I've been reading if it was just the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs (ick) or not. If it was the whole committee[1], then it'll go before the House as a whole (I think). If not it's about to go before the whole committee. Everything I've read says 'committee' not 'subcommittee.' The major issue with this becoming law is that there's de nada like it in the Senate. The different bills in the Senate haven't had almost any support. On the contrary, there has been quite a bit of support for the House bill: there are as of now 129 cosponsors (70 odd Democrats and around 50 Republicans).

It seems to be encouraging, but I'm still cautious. It'd be great to celebrate a new state.

1. I'd love to know Tancredo's vote on the subject. heh heh heh.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

California Republican Candiidate Support No.'s


Rudy Giuliani: 25 percent

Mitt Romney: 13 percent

John McCain: 12 percent

Fred Thompson: 12 percent

Undecided: 22 percent

gah. I guess I am in the undecided category.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New Mexico's Precipitation to Change with Global Warming

New Mexico State University agricultural economics professor Brian Hurd and University of New Mexico civil engineering professor Julie Coonrod say a wide range of climate models predict warmer weather and a change in precipitation patterns in New Mexico.

The researchers said in a study released Tuesday that those changes could lead to a drop in the basin's water supply by as little as a few percent or as much as one-third. That, in turn, could result in direct and indirect losses ranging between $13 million and $115 million by 2030 and from $21 million to more than $300 million by 2080.

The researchers noted that water is used by people, plants and animals and it's used to grow food and provide economic and ecological benefits.

"Under current climate there is virtually no spare water in New Mexico," the study says. "Imagine a very plausible future ... of significantly less water and at the same time significantly more people."

Most at risk are rural communities and agriculture, said Hurd, who has studied climate change and its economic effects for more than a decade.

According to the study, warmer temperatures could create a shift in precipitation patterns, leading to more rain and less snow. Much of the state's surface water comes from snow melt.

Warmer temperatures also mean earlier snow melts, and the researchers said that means water that makes it to the state's reservoirs has more time to evaporate before the irrigation season.

Hurd and Coonrod said less water means crops will shrink and production will drop, which could irreversibly alter New Mexico's landscape and character.

"Irrigated lands support more than crops," Hurd said. "They provide habitat for wildlife, open space and scenic vistas for the backdrop to New Mexico's thriving art, tourist and recreation economies."

Hurd and Coonrod also said the effects warming and drying would have an impact on the state's forests, rangelands and water quality. Wildfires could happen more often and be more severe, and wildlife and livestock would have less forage.

Also, farmers might experience more pressure to lease or sell their water rights so communities can sustain their populations.

"This is something that has already been happening in the state," Hurd said. "Climate change will only hasten water transfers."

Speaking of NM and Climate Change, Jason...

Undersea Mountain Collapse Pulled Australia North

A cataclysm 50 million years ago changed the face of the planet from the Hawaiian Islands to Antarctica, according to new research.

The collapse of an underwater mountain range in the Pacific Ocean turned Australia into a warm and sunny continent instead of a snowbound wasteland and created some of the islands that dot the South Pacific today.

We have found that the destruction of an entire mid-ocean ridge, known as the Izanagi Ridge, initiated a chain reaction of geological events," said Joanne Whittaker, a doctoral student at the University of Sydney's School of Geosciences who led the research.

Using geophysical data gathered by scientists from Australia and Russia, the team confirmed that the ridge plunged underneath a plate of Earth's crust that stretches between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The Japanese landmass then acted as a vast plug in the crack between the plates, changing their movement and rearranging the geography of the Pacific, the team found.

This eventually led to the emergence of dozens of small volcanic islands that dot the southwest Pacific, including Tonga and the island chains that run north and east from Papua New Guinea (see map).

"The cause of [this] major change in the motion of the Pacific plate has long puzzled scientists," Whittaker said.

The team also deduced that the event changed the movement of the Australian continent, causing it to move due north at 2.75 inches (7 centimeters) a year.

"Australia would have been located much further south and would have had a climate more similar to Scandinavia or Alaska" were it not for this event, Whittaker said.

"Only the very northern parts of the continent would have been warm."

There's the POD for the colder, wetter Australia TL they talked about on SHWI ages ago...

The Fox News Republican Debate

Don't expect anything in depth here. Just a few comments.

I have to say that this wasn't as good as I had hoped. I should have known better, truthfully. The whole ridiculous 'I am more conservative than YOU are!" thing was just plain silly. McCain seems less stiff and more like that old him that I supported back in 00. Thompson has in both debates completely underwhelmed me: what was the big deal with this guy again? Romney seemed...ok. Guiliani continues to kinda creep me out and I can't figure out why. Tancredo and Hunter ought to drop out. I suspect that they will after January's madness. Ron Paul. oy. My head hurts.

McCain seemed to have some of the best lines of the night, (re too tied up for Woodstock and looked into Putin's eyes and saw three letters: K-G-B) but this isn't really about wise cracks. Guiliani brought up Ukraine which was a little out of the blue. The poor country seems to get ignored most of the time. However, as much as I appreciate the Putin bashing, let me say that there are far more pressing items than the much weaker than USSR Russia such as the economy, Iraq, education (with blink tag), social security, and immigration. Waxing goofy over Russia is something of a waste of time. Even if I DID appreciate McCain's comments. O:)

What really appalled me was two things. The first was the focus group. I know hat you could find more than find more than just that frumpy, pasty group as one that would have relevance to the Republican Vote in Florida. Good grief! I think I saw one person that wasn't of the pasty persuasion in there. Geez. This is Florida for crying out loud! There are almost certainly some Latinos that would have been interested in being included. The second item that appalled me - and FN isn't the only one that's guilty of this! CNN and MSNBC is too! - they kept only talking and asking questions of the frontrunners. Oh, they'd stop and ask the others, occasionally, but geez, folks, a little more even distribution of the questions would be a good idea.

The most amusing thing that FN did was that they are pretty clueless as to how to run a poll using txt messaging. Ah well.

Still disappointed with the field to this point.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Books Ordered

I decided to go out and pick up some books. Since Mexico, immigration, and my semi-stupid, ahem, quixotic crusade to annex Mexico looms large in my mind, I picked up some more books on the matter. I also picked up a book on Russia's far east, US immigration policy, and the evolution of the dinosaurs. All of these were picked up used to save a little dinero. I have a good chance I'll be ordering more books very soon and those will be new.

In the Mexican category, the first one is Politics in Mexico: The Democratic Transformation. The second one is Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans. Then there is Mexico: Biography of Power. Further is also Opening Mexico : The Making of a Democracy. Don't worry, Noel, your books will come in the next round of books on Mexico. Probably not used either. Gotta make sure an author I like and respect greatly (!!!) is properly paid. Even if they're fscking expensive. :P ;)

Then in the immigration policy arena, I picked up Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882. On the little more rabid side, I also bought Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by Our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border. Hey, it was a buck and I need to understand the arguments of those opposed to letting Mexicans in, nevermind annexing them!

WRT Russia, I picked up Russia's Far East: A Region at Risk. If you all think we have a border to be worried about...Russia has a whole country to be nervous about (demographics) and a border that makes the US ones seem...almost pathetic.

Finally, I picked up a paleo book. I wanted to get more, truthfully, but they're more expensive than the books on Mexico. Since I want to do a good write up of the KT Mass Extinction, I need to do a little more research to back up what I am going to say. Since I rather love the ole dinos, I ordered The Evolution and Extinction of the Dinosaurs. Used too. I actually got it for the 'song' of $7. Normally through amazon its around $65.

The next order of books will probably actually take place in the near future. I'm going to see if I can slip in something from Gerta Keller, even though I am completely and utterly at odds with her positions. :)

This post was inspired by Suzanne and her efforts to beat statistics. Depressing ones at that.

Real Estate: This Graph Should Worry You

While the subprimes are going to settle out next year there's a whole new wave to follow that that won't break until 2012. 2012. Ouch!

HEY! Great Captains of Industry! We need a boom to off set this in the Bay Area? Any chance...oh. NM. ;)

North Atlantic Slows CO2 Intake?

Further evidence for the decline of the oceans’ historical role as an important sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide is supplied by new research by environmental scientists from the University of East Anglia.

Since the industrial revolution, much of the CO2 we have released into the atmosphere has been taken up by the world’s oceans which act as a strong ‘sink’ for the emissions.

This has slowed climate change. Without this uptake, CO2 levels would have risen much faster and the climate would be warming more rapidly.

A paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research by Dr Ute Schuster and Professor Andrew Watson of UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences again raises concerns that the oceans might be slowing their uptake of CO2.

Results of their decade-long study in the North Atlantic show that the uptake in this ocean, which is the most intense sink for atmospheric CO2, slowed down dramatically between the mid-nineties and the early 2000s.

A slowdown in the sink in the Southern Ocean had already been inferred, but the change in the North Atlantic is greater and more sudden, and could be responsible for a substantial proportion of the observed weakening.

The observations were made from merchant ships equipped with automatic instruments for measuring carbon dioxide in the water. Much of the data has come from a container ship carrying bananas from the West Indies to the UK, making a round-trip of the Atlantic every month. The MV Santa Maria, chartered by Geest, has generated more than 90,000 measurements of CO2 in the past few years.

The results show that the uptake by the North Atlantic halved between the mid-90s, when data was first gathered, and 2002-05.

“Such large changes are a tremendous surprise. We expected that the uptake would change only slowly because of the ocean’s great mass,” said Dr Schuster.

“We are cautious about attributing this exclusively to human-caused climate change because this uptake has never been measured before, so we have no baseline to compare our results to. Perhaps the ocean uptake is subject to natural ups and downs and it will recover again.”

But the direction of the change was worrying, she added, and there were some grounds for believing that a ‘saturation’ of the ocean sink would start to occur.

Interesting. Possibly worrying.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Behind Reading Papers

I promised to read several papers and make comments here (and in person) for a couple people. I am waaay behind on this. Seth, David, this is a public apology. I am going to point my readers to their work, however, as I try to cram into my puny "Tween" brain the works of people that are quite bright.

Seth is a CS professor at CMU. The papers I have been reading are about the Claytronics project. I am about 50% done, but I am still haven't touched the most recent of them, so any opinions I have so far are not chronologically up to date as far as their research goes. However, one item that keeps bouncing around my brain is that the programming model that they are going to face reminds me - though it is not a directly applicable one - to what we are starting to think we are going to face in HPC.

We are starting to look at future where the chips that are being made are going to have many cores. Well, duh, many of you say, we're going multicore already. Well, yes, but how many cores do most chips have these days? 4? 8? bah. That's nada. We're discussing in our HPC discussions about something on the order of 1024 cores per chip. 1024. Perhaps as many as 16,384. They're simplified, not as extensive as far as instructions as the current chip cores. Then if you consider we're not giving up the paradigm of massive parallel CPU's either. Now consider the complexity of trying to efficiently use all those cores of a single chip and the massively parallel nature of HPC codes (some, but not many, scaling now to 8,000 CPUs or more): that would possibly be as many as 131,072,000 cores you'd have to code for.

If you state, "well, the compiler will..." I'll start giggling, snorking, and probably repeat the grape juice out the nose incident of 4th grade right after moving to Los Alamos. During the 1990s there was a lot of the "We'll hand off responsibility for optimizing X to the compiler because we need very good coders to handle X" and this, frankly, failed more often than not. Magitech compilers are not here. There are improvements, to be fair. Compilers have truly come a long way. Yet, they still have serious issues optimizing especially on HPC platforms and we are talking 16k CPU/cores, maybe, if you have a Blue Spleen, ahem, Gene a lot more but exceedingly few codes scale to that level. I know of, honestly, only one and that was a hero effort to get it to use all of LLNL's BG. Even so, that's a "mere" 130 odd kilocores, not 131 odd megacores. Truthfully, we don't even have a functional model on how to code for such a beast, but, honestly, we have some viewgraphs and a few ideas.

So the first question after reading the above is "Why do that if its going to be such a pain?" The reason is that you can reduce the power requirements for CPUs by doing so. VASTLY. People mumble and babble about the Coming Singularity and the ever increasing amount of 'matter devoted to computing,' but they sorely neglect the problem of how you can get the energy for that. LLNL is going to put in, for their near term HPC center, more electrical power than what is used by the entire East SF Bay city utilities combined. This is supporting their near term petaflop systems. Now think about that. What happens we are talking about exaflop systems? uh huh. Dedicated powerplants? Sorry, I don't think so! So, we're looking for technologies that reduce our energy expenditures. I was just in a vendor brief this week about the amount of electricity consumed by this vendors next set of chips: it's NDA, so I can't reveal very much, but let's say even the vendor is distressed and is looking for alternate technologies for the future. Can't say more, but I think you can understand that: vendors and centers are now looking at flops/watt as VERY important measures for HPC tech. if we don't find a way around this, we're going to see a top out at most of a world HPC community tapping out at an exaflop or so, but only having a very small handful of centers to do this.

Now be warned, when I first came back to HPC in 2001 after doing my stint playing with mongo death rays the 'in thing' were PIMs: processors in memory. The idea was that you stop separating CPUs from memory in the silicon because the CPU often sits ideal because the memory subsystems are much too slow compared to the CPUs. However, very little of that research effort at here, Stanford, and elsewhere came to, well, anything other than white papers and simulations. Very little silicon was even, erm, bent? Almost nothing went into a commercial product. It was, probably still is a good idea, yet it remains only of academic interest and one that's apparently passe. Massively manycored CPUs may go the same way.

Now that I have had to digress (or wanted to too much) about manycore tech, how does it apply whatsoever to Seth's Claytronics project? Consider that each of their catoms is going to be vaguely similar to a core in that gobsmacking number in that theoretical HPC platform I outlined above. Both would need to have simple, limited instructions. Both would have the need for some very involved, and possibly similar algorithms to make them work. The language and compilers are going to have some common themes. At least from the 10k ft level. At least so far. I'll see more as I read.

Switching topics, David is someone that I met via my wife. David works for Sun. His wife met my wife at a party we went to at a mutual friend's. They came over for dinner and we all started talking. David's Russian like his wife Sasha. Lyuda and Sasha ended up talking in Russian a lot to each and David and I talked shop: he was part of Sun HPCS team. We talked politics of HPC and it shook him up a bit. I am really surprised by that, but anyhow. He pointed me to his papers, here, that he's worked on. I'm just starting with them, but I thought some of you would find them interesting. 17 patents. hrmph. Wish I could say anything like that. Ah well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Energy News: Coal on the Down? Biofuels Futures?

At least 16 coal-fired power plant proposals nationwide have been scrapped in recent months and more than three dozen have been delayed as utilities face increasing pressure due to concerns over global warming and rising construction costs.

The slow pace of new plant construction reflects a dramatic change in fortune for a fuel source that just a few years ago was poised for a major resurgence. Combined, the canceled and delayed projects represent enough electricity to power approximately 20 million homes.

The U.S. Department of Energy's latest tally of pending coal plants, released last week, shows eight projects totaling 7,000 megawatts have been canceled since May. That's besides the cancellation earlier this year of eight plants in Texas totaling 6,864 megawatts. Utilities have also pushed back construction on another 32,000 megawatts worth of projects, according to the Energy Department report.

"All these reports that we were about to be inundated with coal plants, I believe this report tells a different story," said Kenneth Kern, director of analysis and planning at the department's National Energy Technology Laboratory. "What has actually happened, if you look at it closely, was much more modest than what was anticipated," he said.

Coal has been a mainstay for utilities, producing half of all electricity consumed in the United States. But it's also one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change.

From here.

The increasing use of biofuels to tackle global warming is having a dramatic impact on global commodity markets, the head of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange said Thursday.

The recent surge in crude oil and wheat prices to record highs pointed to a transformation of commodity markets, said Craig Donohue, chief executive of the world's largest financial exchange.

"This is an entirely new market in commodities. We see a tremendous convergence now between (soft) commodities and energy with many economies becoming very ethanol based," he told reporters during a visit to Tokyo.
From here.


Neandertals, Humans shared FOXP2?

A new study published online on October 18th in Current Biology reveals that adaptive changes in a human gene involved in speech and language were shared by our closest extinct relatives, the Neandertals. The finding reveals that the human form of the gene arose much earlier than scientists had estimated previously. It also raises the possibility that Neandertals possessed some of the prerequisites for language.

The gene, which is called FOXP2, is the only one known to date to play a role in speech and language, according to the researchers. People who carry an abnormal copy of the FOXP2 gene have speech and language problems.

“From the point of view of this gene, there is no reason to think that Neandertals would not have had the ability for language,” said Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. He noted, however, that many as-yet-unknown genes might underlie the capacity for language. Once found, those would have to be examined in Neandertals as well.

Previous analyses indicated that a very recent rise in the human FOXP2 variant had occurred as a result of strong selection, less than 200,000 years ago, added Svante Pääbo, also of the Max Planck Institute. “Because we know that Neandertal and modern human populations diverged more than 300,000 years ago, we would have guessed that these changes in FOXP2 would have happened after we separated from Neandertals,” Pääbo said, noting that the human version of FOXP2 differs from that of chimps in two places.

Keep in mind that there has been recent doubt about the Neandertal genetics research. Contamination may be a serious issue that hasn't been resolved yet.

Russian Cartoons

I've meant to post about this for some time. A friend of mine pointed us to a claymation version of Cheburashka. My wife has been going a bit bonkers showing us all the youtubed versions of the cartoons she watched when she was a kid. Some are weird. Some are jarring: the Soviet version of Winnie the Pooh, ahem, Vinnie Puh is just a bit incongruous with ours. Oh bother. Cherburashka is ... interesting. Now be careful. Some of them have been redubbed with some nasty words replaced. My wife stepped in one last night (Cheburashka Goblin is a bad, bad one not fit for kids to hear) and found it horribly offensive. Links below:


Vinnie Puh:

There's more, but those are the ones that I like. FWIW, they even had their own version of Mary Poppins. I got my wife our version and she was horrified. She likes theirs better. hrmph. I think I sense a spoonful of cultural bias. ;)

Another One Bites the Dust?

Brownback never enthused me and I'm glad to see the field narrowing. I can't say that I am very enthused with those left though either. Lesser of evils and all that. *sighs*

Note: I self identify as a moderate, but I'm not that easily labeled either.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Romney: Link college aid to occupation

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he would like to link financial aid for college students to the jobs they pursue after graduation.

Romney offered no specifics on what careers would warrant more money for a student during their undergraduate years, such as whether a future lawyer, doctor, teacher or social worker would receive more aid than a future economist or engineer.

"I like the idea of linking the level of support that we're able to provide to young people going to college to the contributions they're going to make to our society," Romney told more than 200 people at a campaign event at a Davenport hotel.

Now that's a good idea.

In truth, I have been particularly hostile to the english, art, and communications departments of various universities. Why in the world should there be free rides for such individuals that are financed through the regular financial aid pool? There are lots of people that are struggling that are engineers and scientists that are in that same pool. If the department has endowments for scholarships, but all means...otherwise, IMAAO, let the individual pay for their own way. Most of the time, I my experience at least, the english et al majors never actually work in their field.

Not endorsing the candidate here, BTW, just the idea that he espoused has merit. If you're afraid of it, don't worry: he'll change his mind.

The Terminator's Great Grand Pappy

Why Global Warming is Inevitable: Kyoto was a Pipe Dream

Canada has no chance of meeting its commitments to cut emissions of greenhouse gases laid down by the Kyoto climate change protocol, the minority Conservative government said in a policy speech on Tuesday.

Not even the goodie two shoes Canucks are going to meet the goals.

That strongly suggests that even a strong, but smallish - in terms of people - economy cannot make Kyoto work, then it was fundamentally flawed in the first place. Furthermore, it implies that those making the policies and doing a lot of the politicking related international relations are not necessarily in touch with reality.


(hmm. that really needs a fscking blink tag. I'll resist that temptation.)

Making up numbers and puttering them around a conference table with no connection to what is really possible makes for something nigh-on 1984ish "we've always been at work with East Asia!"-esque: claiming that you are making progress and trumpeting that these things work when in fact they are emphatically not is Orwellian in a very frightening sort of way. A Shrubbish sort of way.


The Greens are Bush in Birkenstock's. Who'd have thunk it. ;)

A little more seriously, realism, giving straight, honest answers, and setting realistic goals are the only ways of getting this climate change mitigated. Yes, mitigated. We're not going to be able to stop it.

Welcome back to the Eocene, folks. Kinda. Sorta. Not really. It's going to be something new and very...interesting. Climate doesn't repeat.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bye Bye, Tavia!

Yesterday, I went to the going away lunch for a coworker. Tavia and I were hired at NERSC at the same time. We were part of a batch of 4 people hired at the time. Jason, Tom, myself, and Tavia were hired for slightly different reasons. Tom was an old hand at computing and has been involved with higher end computers since the late 1960s. Jason was hired to be part of the then existing Advanced Systems Group to do short term tech exploration. I was hired for my user experience in HPC and the fact that I had been involved in sysadmin in a very heterogenous environment with very demanding up times. Tavia, Tom, and myself were all tasked to the Computational Systems Group. We were to learn how to take care of the Big Beasts we have here. Tom was thrown onto PDSF. I was tasked to the Crays. Tavia went on to the IBM systems. We all did relatively well. I took over as lead on the Crays after six or so months. Tavia was given her own smaller SP3 that she was lead for. The four of us had something of a bond, but this was so for especially Tom, Tavia, and I.

We would go get breakfast and lunch together. When we went on rotation in the beginning, we often helped each other with the systems we were less familiar with. We went out to lunch for when we past our various year anniversaries. We would tell each other some very confidential information. We were pretty close. We even used to pull pranks on each other. During Tavia's going away lunch, we did something of a roast. We all shared our stories. I shared my prank.

Here at NERSC I am noted for a few things. One is that I am a very... individualistic person. :D I am also noted for when something goes wrong I stay with it until its fixed. If there's lots of downtime during a rotation, for whatever, reason, I'll come in and do the work no matter the time without complaint as many times as needed. One of the other things that I am noted for is that I have a magic touch with one of the computers: seaborg. If I go on rotation, it DIES. We get what we call a system wide outage for seaborg almost all the time I go on rotation. I don't even have to login. It's within 48 hours of my rotation starting, sometimes within minutes, and sometimes multiple times. My worst case is when it was 4 times in one week, most of the time at the wee hours of the morning. The operators coined a term for it: "Will hugged seaborg." The funny part was that I just adopted this and would jokingly threaten other sysadmins that if they were not nice to me, I'd go hug seaborg. The nasty part of that was that for a little while it looked as though if I threatened the machine - again without logging in and as a joke, purely! - the machine would impact in a flaming, crashing outage of some bizarro kind or another. This brings us to the joke.

When this was a serious problem, and even IBM used to grumble when and stock extra parts when I went on rotation at this juncture, Tavia went on rotation. It was an early rotation: we'd been there only about a year or so. She'd just started for her week. I called down to the operators and convinced one of them to page her with the words "Will Hugged Seaborg." They did. She flipped out and logged in looked for the nature of the meltdown and disaster...and found de nada. She called Ops and raised hell until they confessed why they'd paged her with that. They fessed up that it was my lil joke. Next thing I knew, she was outside the floater office that I had in OSF - and later became my full time one when they moved us all down to Oakland from Berkeley - and glaring. She opened the door and simply said with irritation blended with amusement: "Don't. Do. That. Again." and with as much dignity as possible with me cracking up marched off to her office.

Tavia is leaving for an HPC center in Britain. She's engaged to a Brit. She comes from another exogamous family (she's a dual citizen of France and the US and of jewish, persian, english, french, and other assorted backgrounds) She claims that she will be back in a couple years dragging her fiance - then to be husband - back with her to the States. Somehow I don't think that she will be. Most likely she'll be snapped up by another HPC facility. She's quite a prize for her brilliance and creativity. She's also someone that's trustworthy and a very hard worker. The sad part is, if all goes well, I won't be here. I'll stay in touch with her, but...I don't think we'll be coworkers again.

I am going to miss her.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Discrimination in Mexico

Whether differences in the living conditions of various groups of people reflect their attributes or prejudice against them is an abiding topic of discussion. This discussion has been less frequent in Mexico than in either the United States or Brazil. Although skin color is not a unique determinant of voting patterns, it often influences daily behavior and political orientation.

The purpose of this article to is present some indicators of the differences in living conditions among white, light brown, dark brown and indigenous people in Mexico in 2006. The data come from three surveys of the same respondents of how voters intended to vote, carried out by the newspaper Reforma[i]. The respondents’ reported characteristics are almost identical in the surveys; I therefore use data from the first survey in this article.

The first survey was carried out from October 8 to October 16, 2005, when 458 white (güero/piel Blanca), 1164 light brown (Moreno claro), and 765 dark brown (Moreno oscuro) Mexicans provided information about their skin color, education and the socioeconomic status of their dwelling. Smaller categories of skin color (negro, chino, etc.) are not included in this analysis. The living conditions of white, light brown and dark brown Mexicans (Socioeconomic Status, SES) are evaluated both for their housing and for their neighborhood.

The data is interesting. A fascinating profile of a different country's biases within its society.

Ukraine: Orange Again

Parties linked to Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" that swept President Viktor Yushchenko to power initialed an agreement on Monday to form a post-election coalition in parliament and a government.

The "orange" coalition is all but certain to propose former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, head of the largest "orange" group in the assembly, be restored to the job to which the president appointed her after taking office.

Endorsement of the coalition took place after officials announced the final results from a parliamentary election giving two "orange" parties a wafer-thin majority of 228 seats -- two more than needed for a majority in the 450-member chamber.

"Let me just say that the election has led to a change in parliament. Power has changed hands in Ukraine and we have achieved the result we had hoped for," Tymoshenko said after the brief ceremony.

"The democratic team has all grounds to reform all sectors of life so that people feel tangible changes in the country."

Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, head of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine party, also initialed the agreement.

Yuri Lutsenko, head of the allied People's Self-Defense group which ran in tandem with Our Ukraine, was present, though he did not put his name to the document.

Yushchenko's office had earlier announced that the coalition agreement would be endorsed only on Tuesday.

So! Some thoughts here. No coalition of national unity! Yanukovich is kicked to the curb. The article also stated that Ole Yan could only muster 202 seats. That's really interesting. It means that the 'Block of Lytvyn' didn't want to join with Ole Yan's crew. Do we have a third pole developing? Or are they hoping to get concessions from the Orangers to strengthen their coalition? Is the Party of Regions in a real world of hurt? Or...? We will see.

We'll also see how long their coalition lasts. They have a majority of 3 seats!

New Uber Sized Late Cretaceous Sauropod Found

It is supposed to be 105 ft long and comes from 88 million years ago from Argentina. Interestingly, this monster sized titanosaur was around near the end of the Cretaceous in Gondwanaland. That tells me that the GL fauna was far more conservative than even I thought: mega sauropods until the KT?

Tres Interesting.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reading Update

Wow. I just realized it has been forever since I did a reading update. It's been a relatively light period right now: I blew threw my reading material faster than planned and I'm considering more books to order. However, there's a go-no go decision at work about aside project I have that I am awaiting judgment on. If I get the ethical green light, then it'll really shape my next book purchases with a vengeance. If I don't, that will as well. I have been promised a response by Thursday of next week. We shall see!

I finished Horns and Beaks. It was okay. There was one rather good paper on the paleobiology of chasmosaurs, a type of ceratopsian. It was the one paper I really liked in the whole of the book. If they'd done that same sort of idea with a form of 'duckbill' I would have thought the book as a whole was a very good one. However, mostly, I didn't. I'm a little disappointed, actually, because I am more interested in the dinos as organisms and their place in the Mesozoic ecology than defending whether or not one species or another should be differentiated from another based on bone morphology. Necessary that, but not my area of interest.

I also read Dr Peter Ward's latest book, Under a Green Sky. It's pretty good. There are some bits that are obnoxious (re human cultures in the tropics vs temperates). There are bits that are very good science wise. Of course, his narrative is pretty good too. His big Oy here is that he tries to make a case for vulcanism to be the Grand Unified Mass Extinction Theory (gotta write that post, damnit). He walks through some of the mass extinctions (major and minor) and makes predictions based on anoxia in the oceans that most of the time life gets mopped by the nasty side effects of major vulcanism. He does point out that the KT is unique and that the meteor did the deed. While predictions are good, the certainty that he espouses his views on vulcanism uber alles is rather annoying. I do think that vulcanism is one of the major drives of mass extinction. However, I have to say I would argue that it is one of the mechanisms that have it happen rather the Grand Unifying Theory. To say otehrwise is a wee bit annoying until the research has been done. A little more caution needs to be used here.

I also read David Raup's The Nemesis Affair. It was interesting. I have to say that periodicity is annoying to me. I do not for a second believe it to be anything other than wishful thinking. Whether it's the theory that there's a companion star, planet x, traversing the galactic plane, or whatnot, it's simply not there to be found, really. People seem to be looking for some sort of order in something that's inherently random. Anyways, it was an interesting read simply because it documented a failed scientific concept that was approached as serious hypothesis. That was interesting. It was well worth learning about.

Then there was The Emergence of Animals. It was an interesting read. I realized a bit late that it is a bit dated though: it was published in 1990. While I am sure that it has a lot of good stuff in there, I don't know enough about the transition between the Vendian/Ediacarian ecologies to Cambrian Ecology to make much in the way of pronunciations. There were a few 'hmmms', but lack of knowledge stills my typing here. When I get around to reading more on the subject I'll have more to say. For now, knotch this one in the interesting category.

I also got in my kookie immigration book, Opening the Borders by Larry Blasko (whose son works at the Heritage Foundation, boggle). I bought this as a counterpoint to my other kookie immigration book purchase Annexing Mexico. Don't worry: both books were bought used. The idea was supposed to be that these were similar but opposed central ideas and probably ones that could not be adopted truthfully. Amusingly, I found out after the fact, merely because I was not paying attention, that both books were published by the same publisher. Both books also used the same obnoxious oversized type and mini pages. Anyways, Opening the Borders was supposed to be a 'liberal' idea and Annexing Mexico the 'conservative' one. When Blasko stated that he got lots of help from the Heritage Foundation...well...that settled that. *bemused look* Anyways, editorializing aside, the central idea of OtB is that we ought to move Mexico into a Compact of Free Association. To make his case, the author goes out of his way to belittle and demean the other points of view. Indeed he also makes some statements that are patently false and contradictory (frex: all Mexicans that come here plan on going back (and do) yet they assimilate as do their children. ummm...) or somewhat distasteful (re a lot of comments about Mexican culture). I have some rebuttal posts coming up on this as part of my delayed 'Si! Mexico Yes! series, but it'll take time.

Finally, i went out and bought a copy of Eric Flint's last volume in the Belisarius series. I did this as a filler and thought that I wanted to finish the series since I had originally read it and liked it. oy. I really wish I hadn't. I didn't finish the book. I merely put it to the side after reading about half. I actually thought I'd rather reread Evolution by that humanity hater, Stephen Baxter, than continue. And I don't care for Baxter much. Dance of Time was boring, dull, and tedious. I didn't care about any of the characters and found their actions...implausible at best and down right stupid quite frequently. I stopped caring and simply put the book down. That's something that I truly, rarely do.

That's it for now. I'm going to probably order more about things paleo, Mexican history, immigration history, Russian politics, and books for the project. If it gets deemed nonissue by work. Gotta keep the job even if I want to do the fun stuff. No big announcements come Thursday though. Sorry. I want to be under the radar for a while. heh.

Real Climate has Flannery Rebuttal

Go read.

Real Climate says we're at a CO2 equivalent of 375 ppm rather than Flannery's claim we've already exceeded 450 ppm. Interesting.

Unless Flannery's opinions are backed up by the IPCC (?) report that he claimed he saw, he's going to end up in the junk bin here on tDTs.

Titan's Weather

Talk about cold, miserable weather! When dawn comes on Titan it's nearly 300 degrees below zero with a steady drizzle.

And the drizzle is methane -- an explosive gas on Earth that is chilled into a liquid on that moon of Saturn, astronomers report in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.

Other than that, they say, weather there may follow processes similar to weather here.

Researchers led by Mate Adamkovics of the University of California, Berkeley, studied Titan, Saturn's largest moon, using near-infrared images from Hawaii's W. M. Keck Observatory and Chile's Very Large Telescope.

In most of the images methane clouds and drizzle are seen in the morning.

"Titan's topography could be causing this drizzle," said Imke de Pater, also an astronomer at U.C. Berkeley. "The rain could be caused by processes similar to those on Earth: Moisture laden clouds pushed upslope by winds condense to form a coastal rain."

Depending on conditions, the drizzle could hit the ground or turn into a ground mist, the researchers said.

They reported that the drizzle seems to dissipate after what would be about 10:30 a.m. Titan time, if the day there were divided into 24 hours. However, because Titan takes 16 Earth days to rotate once, the drizzle continues for about three Earth days after sunrise.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Technology Center for Adaptive Optics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, NASA and the Center for Integrative Planetary Science at [U.C.] Berkeley.

That's the whole article. They originally wrote U.S. Berkeley. The People's Republic of Berkeley might have objected, so I fixed it to what it ought to be. ;)

Missile Defense Talks With Russia Fail

In a tense start to talks on a range of thorny issues, President Vladimir Putin on Friday warned U.S. officials to back off a plan to install missile defenses in eastern Europe or risk harming relations with Moscow.

Addressing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Russian president appeared to mock the U.S. missile defense plan, which is at the center of a tangle of arms control and diplomatic disputes between the former Cold War adversaries.

"We may decide someday to put missile defense systems on the moon, but before we get to that we may lose a chance for agreement because of you implementing your own plans," Putin said in Russian, according to an Associated Press translation.

Putin also said Russia might feel compelled to pull out of a 20-year-old arms control deal unless it is expanded.

Later, at the start of a meeting with Rice and Gates, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov referred to the Americans having presented "detailed proposals" in the Putin talks to address U.S.-Russian differences on missile defense and arms control. He offered no details but said the Russian government is ready to seek compromise.


The Russian government sees the U.S. missile defense plan, which Washington describes as a hedge against the threat of missile attack from Iran, as a worrisome step toward weakening Russian security. It has been a longstanding dispute, and Putin's remarks seemed to raise the level of tensions.


After keeping Rice and Gates waiting for 40 minutes, Putin began the session with a lengthy monologue in which he also said that Russia may feel compelled to abandon its obligations under a 1987 missile treaty with the United States if it is not expanded to constrain other missile-armed countries.

Referring to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty that was negotiated with the United States before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Putin said it must be applied to other countries, including those "located in our near vicinity." He did not mention any by name, but in response, Gates said Washington was interested in limiting missile proliferation in Iran.

Putin said the treaty must be made "universal in nature."

The pact eliminated the deployment of Soviet and American ballistic missiles of intermediate range and was a landmark step in arms control just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and later the breakup of the Soviet Union.

"We need to convince other (countries) to assume the same level of obligation as assumed by the Russian Federation and the United States," Putin said. "If we are unable to obtain such a goal ... it will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of the treaty in a situation where other countries do develop such weapon systems, and among those are countries located in our near vicinity."

Putin also has threatened to suspend Russian adherence to another arms control treaty, known as the Conventional Forces in Europe pact, which limits deployments of conventional military forces. Moscow wants it to be revised in ways that thus far have been unacceptable to U.S. and European signatories.

On missile defense, Putin was particularly pointed in his remarks, in which sought to lay out his view of what Rice and Gates should be discussing later Friday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

"We hope that in the process of such complex and multi-faceted talks you will not be forcing forward your relations with the eastern European countries," the president said. He then made his remark about the possibility of one day putting a missile defense system on the moon.

From CNN. There's also another article on Yahoo News.

This is not going to ever make a breakthrough. Russia does not want to make a compromise on this[1]. In fact, they are going to use this as a way of getting out of other obligations that they inherited from the Soviet Union. It is amazing that even with the petrorubles flooding in that they are simply must have a defense built on nuclear weapons of all sorts and the belief that nuclear weapons can be used in a tactical sense. Unfortunately, the whole world is against that. The Neocons here thought that a nuke bunker buster would be a good idea: while I don't have a personal object to them as tactical weapons, they are simply politically infeasible. It helps you NOT AT ALL if the world suddenly slams horribly strict and nasty sanctions on you. It's not even a credible threat then. gah.

1. Please read my post "Why Does Russia Object to NMD in the EU?"

Uber Sized Permian Fossil Beds Outside Las Cruces?

There's more to the Robledo Mountains than meets the eye — much, much more.

Long buried under the mountains lies a petrified forest that holds clues to the forest, swamps and critters that roamed them close to 300 million years ago.

City officials are expected to announce Friday the discovery of petrified forests near the proposed Prehistoric Trackways National Monument in the Robledos. The find, credited to amateur paleontologist Jerry MacDonald of Las Cruces, could represent one of the largest and best deposits of petrified forest from the early Permian era — roughly 300 million years ago

"This is a huge find," said Spencer Lucas, interim executive director of the Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque. "It's probably the single biggest accumulation of logs we know of. This is the most significant fossil wood find from the Permian era in New Mexico in at least a century."


The wood is likely driftwood that accumulated and was fossilized in and around the Robledos. And the logs are superior because they preserve microscopic cell structure that will allow scientists to better understand the forest that once existed in the area.

"Before these logs were found, we knew about the footprints," he said. "Now what you're getting is a more complete picture of that ecosystem."

Will Picknor, director of museums for the City of Las Cruces, said the discovery of a petrified forest could "dwarf" Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.


damjit. I lived right next to this and never went fossil hunting the area. I was too absorbed in other stuff at the time. Geez. Dumbdumbdumb. Don't ever put the things ya love on the backburner. Sheesh.

Let's see what they announce later today. Maybe.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Republican Debate: Economics?!

I am at home working while Avrora is sleeping. I am listening to the Republican Debate that was run by MSNBC. First off, let me say that MSNBC stated that the debate was supposed to be focused on the economy. My Dear Lord, they have no control over this debate whatsoever. Why are they asking questions on Iraq and Iran? gah.

Secondly, I just can. not. understand. what the frack these candidates are thinking. Rarely has anyone on that stage answering in anything like a coherent fashion. It's like there's some sort of a mental disconnect between the candidates hear and what they spew out. It has so little to do with a reasonable answer that it ius just, frankly, amazing. Romney's anwer about lawyers?! Guiliani and Romney singing, "Whatever you can do, I can do better!" Then the crappy answers that anyone says. oy. I have to choose between the twits on the stage come primary time. oy. oh oy.

Finally, the questions that MSNBC's questions, even those that are on the economy are simply inept and lack any depth. I guess, if the questions are not any good, the answers are going to suck just as much. Gah. Be specific and dig for a good answer instead of nonanswers these bimbos are piddling out on the floor in front of us.

Venus' Oceans Lasted a Billion Years

The cloud-shrouded planet most likely started with oceans much like Earth's, which evaporated as Venus heated up, according to new research.

The oceans didn't disappear overnight, said David Grinspoon of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of planetary scientists in Orlando, Florida, Grinspoon said that preliminary results of new computer models indicate Venus may have retained its oceans for a billion years after it formed, possibly longer.

Prior models had indicated that rising Venusian temperatures had turned the oceans to steam within the planet's first 600 million years.

The extra 400 million years are even more significant than they sound, Grinspoon added, because early Venus was constantly bombarded by asteroids, reducing the likelihood of life.

The new finding suggests that the oceans existed for much longer after the asteroid bombardment tapered off.

The article goes on to say that there might have been a significant period of time where Venus was inhabitable. That would be stretching it I think. It's unlikely that Venus had complex, multicelluar organisms. The big bang of that didn't happen on Earth for some time after the oxygen crisis. Indeed, it took life billions of years to even hit the point where there was an oxygen crisis where O2 was prevalent enough that it poisoned some of the older kinds of life and allowed the innovations that led up to the multicelluar lifeforms that we find in our fossil record. It's highly doubtful that the Venusian life even made it to the complexity of the Ediacarian/Vendian lifeforms.

No matter what, even if there was some oxygen in the atmosphere, no human could have lived there in shirt sleeves.

SPS Techies Sniff Around the US Military...again

Collecting solar power in space and beaming it back to Earth is a relatively near-term possibility that could solve strategic and tactical security problems for the U.S. and its deployed forces, the Pentagon's National Security Space Office (NSSO) says in a report issued Oct. 10.

As a clean source of energy that would be independent of foreign supplies in the strife-torn Middle East and elsewhere, space solar power (SSP) could ease America's longstanding strategic energy vulnerability, according to the "interim assessment" released at a press conference and on the Web site

And the U.S. military could meet tactical energy needs for forward-deployed forces with a demonstration system, eliminating the need for a long logistical tail to deliver fuel for terrestrial generators while reducing risk for eventual large-scale commercial development of the technology, the report says.

"The business case still doesn't close, but it's closer than ever," said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Paul E. Damphousse of the NSSO, in presenting his office's report.

That could change if the Pentagon were to act as an anchor tenant for a demonstration SSP system, paying above-market rates for power generated with a collection plant in geostationary orbit beaming power to U.S. forces abroad or in the continental U.S., according to Charles Miller, CEO of Constellation Services International and director of the Space Frontier Foundation.

By buying down the risk with a demonstration at the tactical level, the U.S. government could spark a new industry able to meet not just U.S. energy needs, but those of its allies and the developing world as well. The technology essentially exists, and needs only to be matured. A risk buy-down by government could make that happen, according to the NSSO report.

"This is not a 50-year solution," said John Mankins, an expert in the field and president of the Space Power Association. "The kinds of things that are possible today say a truly transformational demonstration at a large scale is achievable within this decade."

I've seen a lot of people push the SPS model over the years. In the abstract I kinda like it. However, economically, it doesn't hold water. Alas. Until you are able to manufacture and assemble the whole kit and kaboodle in orbit at a price cheaper than building the arrays on earth with the cost of land etc added. Until that time, it's silly.

I am a bit wary of the military buying into the SPS model: SPS are really, really, really big targets. If the military were to become dependent on them, you can be damned sure that China, Russia, and anyone else that might have a beef with the US would invest in tons of antisatellite weaponry.

It ought to be noted that this is not the first time that the SPS advocates have courted the military. They did so ten years ago too when I was working for defense contractors. I read about it in the defense rags at the time that I had access to that I cannot afford now (Janes? monetary ouchie and then some!)