Friday, February 29, 2008

An Alternate Permian Period

One of the things that I talked about in my post on Gorgons I mentioned was that I wanted to do a post or so on an alternate ending to the Period Period. Zach and I have been talking about already. We have a basic working idea of what we want to do and our first critter is underway. Right now though, I thought I'd like to talk about some of the higher level decisions we've made.

The first and most obvious is that the Permian-Triassic Extinction didn't happen. Instead of the Siberian Traps going nuts in less than a million years, its eruptions are more gradual and take place over the course of ten million years. Now obviously, this will have its own geological label and a unique climate: sorta a continental variant on the Eocene climatically. Furthermore, it's going to have a higher sustained rate of turnover in species and genera than the periods before and afterwards. It will be a period of evolutionary innovation and a lot of nifty things are going to come out of it. We're going to have some fun showing off here. ;)

The Paleozoic doesn't end until what would have been the Triassic's end: the Permian gets an extension from 251 million years ago to 200 million years ago. This makes the Permian pretty darn long: 100 million years to be exact. Truthfully, if we were looking back (or sideways, as it may be in this case), the alternate Permian would probably be broken up into two ages since there was a largish turnover during the period from 251 - 241 million years (ATL). Any thoughts from the pros in the audience?

The extended Permian does end with a mass extinction. It kills much the same percentage wise as did the TJ Extinction (OTL). That is to say 50% of the species will get mopped. However, there's no big turnover or domination from one side of the mass extinction to the other two/three major classes of land vertebrates. The cause of the extinction is still largely the same: the blood basalt eruptions of the Central Magnetic Province (and the opening of the Atlantic).

A couple more things here. The therapsids and their derivatives are the dominate critters up until the KT Event: there are some parallel evolution bits happening here, but this TL is not one where the Age of Mammals comes early. Then anything goes. The oxygen dip that took place and dropped it down oh-so-low OTL is now drawn out and doesn't quite get as low either. The low point ATL is at around 140 million years ago and "only" reached the bottoming out of 19%. Much milder than OTL.

There's more, but that will have to do for now. I've gotta run.

Maya May Have Caused Civilization-Ending Climate Change

Self-induced drought and climate change may have caused the destruction of the Maya civilization, say scientists working with new satellite technology that monitors Central America's environment.


More than a hundred reasons have been proposed for the downfall of the Maya, among them hurricanes, overpopulation, disease, warfare, and peasant revolt. (Read "Maya Rise and Fall" in National Geographic magazine (August 2007).

But Sever, NASA's only archaeologist, adds to evidence for another explanation.

"Our recent research shows that another factor may have been climate change," he said during a meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, earlier this month.

One conventional theory has it that the Maya relied on slash-and-burn agriculture. But Sever and his colleagues say such methods couldn't have sustained a population that reached 60,000 at its peak.

The researchers think the Maya also exploited seasonal wetlands called bajos, which make up more than 40 percent of the Petén landscape that the ancient empire called home.

Empire? hmmm.

This is interesting as it helps peel away more of the Mayan onion.


Life at the moment is a little exciting.

Yesterday my daughter had her 3rd birthday. She had requested cheese cake, so that's what we got her (we have been to pressed for time to make one). We had two friends over and because of the timing sang to her twice. She got three DVDs and a Parasaurolophus dino toy from us, a book from a good friend that's virtually her godmother at this point, and a t-shirt from one of the friends that came over. She'll have another BDay party on Monday at her daycare. One goof up from last night was that we realized too late that we didn't get her balloons: Lyuda grabbed some fast from the local TJ's because our local supply had already closed.

Last night after Avrora had gone to bed, I helped my wife a bit - and only a bit - with some editting on her paper that was due today. Russian, her native tongue, has a lesser emphasis on word order: the differences between "people with potential" and "with potential people" are rather English. This isn't a jab at her! I know I could use an editor for my prose here. oy.

This morning I had a meeting with the machinist that's doing the work - or at least giving me quotes - related to my "mischief." He needed some clarification on some drawings. He figured out what this whole thing was for and is really stoked. Likewise, I got a call this morning from a potential partner company and they are very interested. I have a meeting at their corporate headquarters on Wednesday (*gulp*). I also have a meeting with a company rep on Monday. The CAD stuff is largely done for the physical aspects of what I am doing. I'm moving into the control and programming aspect now.

I have to run out for an appointment that has nothing to do with my mischief tomorrow.

Plus my class stuff.

On top of all of that I still have my job. And the very unfinished Permian sim I have been tinkering with for some time.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Call for a Post: Obama & Clinton on NAFTA

Noel Maurer of Halfway Down the Danube has been actively participating in the Obama campaign. He has made pitches online as well as helping by going door to door[1] at various focal points to stump for his candidate. Noel is a good guy and I deeply respect his opinions. He's an economist, author, and generally really, really smart man. He's also a committed, as I understand his posts from the past few years we have interacted online, free trade advocate. Yet, there has been a lot of talk from the Democratic camps about renegotiating NAFTA. This is especially true from Senator Obama. This has made some mutual online friends from north of the border a wee bit nervous.

If Noel can squeeze in the time, I'd like a clarification. He's one of the best people I can think of to explain given his qualifications and . I think that there might be a nontrivial amount of FUD being spread or said. So, Noel, you game?

1. I am really, really glad that he's off the market with a very lovely lady. Talk about a geek's nightmare! Noel's prettier and smarter than I a lot. "May I interest you, ma'am, in my...candidate?" (just kidding, Noel!)

My Beautiful Little Girl is 3 Today!

On February 28th, 2005 at 8:04 AM my beautiful baby girl joined us in taking her first breath and screaming to let all the world know she had arrived.

Today is her third birthday. I have never been so proud of someone in all my life. I have never been so delighted with anyone in all my life. I have never loved someone like this in all of my life. She is cute, adorable, perceptive and brilliant.

She's been noted since before she was one years old that she has her "own mind:" even now she likes to watch the Presidential Debates and ask questions and make comments. She likes both McCain and Obama. She prefers Obama over McCain though contrary to her folks. She does say that McCain's a "Good dadja" (man) like Obama. However she does not like Clinton or Huckles.

We're having two parties for her. A small get together tonight with some friends and another with her daycare. We'd like to do one big party, but we're in a bit of a jam since our apartment is a little too small.

I'll make sure to put up some pix tonight.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why Antarctica's Glaciers Came to Be

A team of scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales travelled to Africa to find new evidence of climate change which helps explain some of the mystery surrounding the appearance of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Ice sheet formation in the Antarctic is one of the most important climatic shifts in Earth’s history. However, previous temperature records show no evidence of the oceans cooling at this time, but instead suggest they actually warmed, presenting a confusing picture of the climate system which has long been a mystery in palaeoclimatology.

Now Dr Carrie Lear, Lecturer in Palaeoceanography, and her team at Cardiff have presented new temperature records using ancient sea floor mud recovered from Tanzania, East Africa. The shell chemistry of pin-head sized animals called foraminifera (“forams”) reveal that ocean temperatures did in fact cool by about 2.50C.

Dr Lear said: “Forams are great tools for studying climates of the past, which helps us learn about the uncertainties of our future greenhouse climate. These new records help resolve a long-standing puzzle regarding the extent of ice-sheet growth versus global cooling, and bring climate proxy records into line with climate model simulations.

“We have been able to use the chemistry of the Tanzanian microfossils to construct records of temperature and ice volume over the interval of the big climate switch. These new records show that the world’s oceans did cool during the growth of an ice sheet, and that the volume of ice would have fitted onto Antarctica; so now the computer models of climate and the past climate data match up.”

The team at Cardiff University’s School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences will now look for evidence of the ultimate cause of the global cooling using the forams. They believe the prime suspect is a gradual reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, combined with a ‘trigger’ time when Earth’s orbit around the sun made Antarctic summers cold enough for ice to remain frozen all year round.

More later. :)

Web Hosting? With Blog and Mail Services?

Tender Readers,

I am seeking a little bit of advice. I know some of you are more up to date with this sort of thing than I am, so I am appealing to my readership. I hope that I have at least one webhead out there that can give me some good recommendations for a web hosting service that has blog and mail services so I don't have to link to and fro across providers.


Company Claims Vastly Better H2 Electrolysis

QuantumSphere Inc. says it has perfected the manufacture of highly reactive catalytic nanoparticle coatings that could up the efficiency of electrolysis, the technique that generates hydrogen from water. Moreover, the coatings could also eliminate the need for expensive metals like platinum in hydrogen fuel cells.

Boasting 1,000 times the surface area of traditional materials, the coatings can be used to retrofit existing electrolysers to increase their efficiency to 85 percent--exceeding the Department of Energy's goal for 2010 by 10 percent. The scheme holds the promise of 96 percent efficiency by the time cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells hit automobile showrooms, according to the Santa Ana, Calif., company.

Now let's see if this is vaporware or not. :D

Company link.

Yet Another T rex of the Oceans

purty pic tho.

Late-Holocene Lake-Level Variation in West Greenland

Situated between the North Atlantic and the Greenland ice sheet, the thousands of lakes in the Kangerlussuaq area of West Greenland (67°N) present excellent targets for paleoclimate studies. Paleoshorelines surrounding multiple closed-basin lakes in this area record fluctuations in lake level since deglaciation. Shorelines along two of these lakes, Hundeso and Lake E, were surveyed and trenched to reconstruct the history of lake-level change. The stratigraphies of the trenches were described, and a chronology has been developed using radiocarbon dating of organic material. Preliminary results indicate a highly variable hydrologic regime throughout the late Holocene.

Hundeso had high-stand lake levels ~810 and 1950 14C yr. B.P., reaching elevations 4-5 meters above present lake level. Topographic data show that at these times Hundeso was joined with several neighboring lakes to form a "mega lake" that covered over 520 ha. Lake E also experienced high stands at the same time (830 and 1920 14C yr. B.P.), with lake levels 1-2 meters above present.

This study presents the first direct evidence of Holocene lake-level variability in this region, which can be used to constrain the interpretation of other paleoclimate proxies in cores from regional lakes. Our data suggest substantial hydrologic variation during the last 2000 years, including the highest lake stands since the lakes were formed ~8000 years ago.

Warning, paper is a PDF.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blog Roll Update: Adding a Nimvarid

I have added Nimvarid to my sidebar blogroll. I stumbled upon the site because of a post about the author's annoyance to the term 'mammal-like reptile.' The author then kindly linked back to my gorgonopsid post. I have been reading the blog since via Google's Reader and what clinched the addition was the post on mammal evolution.

Bryan, add those posts to the next Boneyard, will ya?

I strongly recommend that others check out the worthy blog as well.

McCain's Stance on Puerto Rico

Mike dropped by and asked what was McCain's stance on Puerto Rico. Should it be a state? Should it be an independent country? Should it remain an unincorporated territory (ie colony)? Since I already blogged a little about Obama's stance and Hillary's fight to get the Puerto Rican delegates, I really ought to say something about McCain's stance as well.

McCain's stance is that he embraces the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status. He is a cosponsor of Senate Bill 1936 "Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007." He has stated that he wants to make a permanent resolution to the island's status. He has stated that he would be willing to sign, as President, either the House or Senate version of the bill. Even though the Senate version of the bill allows for Commonwealth status, McCain wants Luis Fortuno who is a very strong advocate of statehood to act as an adviser. That, and the fact that HR900 is loaded towards statehood, would imply he backs statehood.

News links are here and here.

SDSC Supercomputer Simulates Pac NW 9.0 quake

On January 26, 1700, at about 9 p.m. local time, the Juan de Fuca plate beneath the ocean in the Pacific Northwest suddenly moved, slipping some 60 feet eastward beneath the North American plate in a monster quake of approximately magnitude 9, setting in motion large tsunamis that struck the coast of North America and traveled to the shores of Japan.

Since then, the earth beneath the region – which includes the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland -- has been relatively quiet. But scientists believe that earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 8, so-called “megathrust events,” occur along this fault on average every 400 to 500 years.

To help prepare for the next megathrust earthquake, a team of researchers led by seismologist Kim Olsen of San Diego State University (SDSU) used a supercomputer-powered “virtual earthquake” program to calculate for the first time realistic three-dimensional simulations that describe the possible impacts of megathrust quakes on the Pacific Northwest region. Also participating in the study were researchers from the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego and the U.S. Geological Survey.

What the scientists learned from this simulation is not reassuring, as reported in the Journal of Seismology, particularly for residents of downtown Seattle.

With a rupture scenario beginning in the north and propagating toward the south along the 600-mile long Cascadia Subduction Zone, the ground moved about 1 ½ feet per second in Seattle; nearly 6 inches per second in Tacoma, Olympia and Vancouver; and 3 inches in Portland, Oregon. Additional simulations, especially of earthquakes that begin in the southern part of the rupture zone, suggest that the ground motion under some conditions can be up to twice as large.

“We also found that these high ground velocities were accompanied by significant low-frequency shaking, like what you feel in a roller coaster, that lasted as long as five minutes – and that’s a long time,” said Olsen.

The long-duration shaking, combined with high ground velocities, raises the possibility that such an earthquake could inflict major damage on metropolitan areas -- especially on high-rise buildings in downtown Seattle. Compounding the risks, like Los Angeles to the south, Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia sit on top of sediment-filled geological basins that are prone to greatly amplifying the waves generated by major earthquakes.

A Mag 9.0 would be bad news almost anywhere there are people. I don't care what sort of geology you happen to be sitting on!

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Lemur Phylogenetic Study

Scientists uncover evolutionary relationships among species based on similarities and differences in their genetic codes. The increasing number of fully sequenced genomes available for major evolutionary groups has allowed resolution of relationships that had been considered unmanageable before.

But except for humans’ close evolutionary ties to chimpanzees, many of the relationships among other apes, monkeys and pre-monkeys called prosimians have remained somewhat murky, according to Horvath.

To find out where Madagascar’s lemurs fit in, the Duke team first needed to develop the tools for comparing sequences from the many lemur species to one another, and to those of other primates including humans.

The researchers identified stretches of DNA sequence held in common between the genomes of the human, the ringtailed lemur and the mouse lemur. These "conserved sequences" served as primers, allowing them to sample comparable bits of sequence across the genomes of the various primate species.

Their analysis confirmed that the first to branch off from the rest of the lemurs, some 66 million years ago, was the aye-aye--a nocturnal primate that taps on trees with its fingers to listen for insects inside, making it Madagascar’s version of a woodpecker. They also resolved the relationships among species within the remaining four evolutionary lineages, which includes a diverse cast of characters: the sifakas, named for the hissing “shee-fak” sound they make; the sportive lemurs, which are strictly nocturnal; the mouse lemurs, the smallest of all living primates; and the many so-called “true lemurs,” including the blue-eyed black lemur (one of only three blue-eyed primates in the world) and the ringtailed lemur, which is often found in zoos.

“By throwing this much data at the problem, we have absolutely confirmed, beyond any statistical doubt, that the spectacular array of lemurs all descended from a single ancestral species,” said Yoder, noting that lemurs account for about 20 percent of primate species and live on less than one percent of the earth’s surface. “It further highlights the importance of Madagascar as a cradle for biodiversity.”

Wow. Let me repeat what they said, "[W]e have absolutely confirmed, beyond any statistical doubt, that the spectacular array of lemurs all descended from a single ancestral species."

The paper will be in the March 1st, 2008 edition of Genome Research.

(I <3 lemurs)

Return of Darth Nader

ARGH! It's the return of the Ross Perot of the Left! Is he seeking Green Party backing this time? Or will his ego be sufficient to fund him through November?

Boneyard XIV

The latest Boneyard is up over at Self-Designed Student. It's a very good list of what's new and fascinating as far as paleo posts in the blosgophere.

Friday, February 22, 2008

B-2 Went Splat

A U.S. B-2 stealth bomber crashed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam just after taking off but the two pilots on board ejected safely, the U.S. Air Force said late on Friday.

"They have been evaluated by medical authorities and are in good condition," the Air Force said in a statement.

An Air Force spokeswoman did not have details about bomber's mission in Guam. The aircraft, which cost almost $1.2 billion each, is based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.


(glad the pilots are ok though)

Whither Russia's Credibility?

Yet Moscow was already backtracking on its own bluff at that point. President Vladimir Putin, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Russian bicameral parliament all blinked deeply during February 14-18. And on February 20 the Duma’s international affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachev inadvertently demonstrated the insolvency of Russia’s threats all along to “recognize” Abkhazia and South Ossetia or other post-Soviet secessionists: Such a move, Kosachev finally admitted, “would have brought far more losses than gains, triggering a very serious crisis in the CIS, and exacerbating Russia’s relations with NATO, the European Union, and the United States."

The Bear howled and yowled and growled. It stomped its feet and huffed and puffed...and...didn't do a thing. What does this do to Russia's adversarial credibility? If you cast yourself as a great power that is frequently in opposition to the West and especially American interests, then shouldn't you follow up with what you say you are going to do? Or was the bluff simply oh-so-much hot air. Like GLONASS. Like so many things these days from Russia?

HPC: Chasing the Next Big Buzz Word

Preparing groundwork for an exascale computer is the mission of the new Institute for Advanced Architectures, launched jointly at Sandia and Oak Ridge national laboratories.

An exaflop is a thousand times faster than a petaflop, itself a thousand times faster than a teraflop. Teraflop computers —the first was developed 10 years ago at Sandia — currently are the state of the art. They do trillions of calculations a second. Exaflop computers would perform a million trillion calculations per second.

The idea behind the institute —under consideration for a year and a half prior to its opening — is “to close critical gaps between theoretical peak performance and actual performance on current supercomputers,” says Sandia project lead Sudip Dosanjh. “We believe this can be done by developing novel and innovative computer architectures.”

Ultrafast supercomputers improve detection of real-world conditions by helping researchers more closely examine the interactions of larger numbers of particles over time periods divided into smaller segments.

“An exascale computer is essential to perform more accurate simulations that, in turn, support solutions for emerging science and engineering challenges in national defense, energy assurance, advanced materials, climate, and medicine,” says James Peery, director of computation, computers and math.

The institute is funded in FY08 by congressional mandate at $7.4 million. It is supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Sandia is an NNSA laboratory.

So the race is on to start working on the exaflop system. We are also are looking at this. There's a paper that some of my coworkers did recently about a machine to do exaflop "class work" on climate simulations. The machine they came up with based on the best fit for modern tech was so ridiculously scary that it is inherently obvious that we are going to need some fundamental breakthroughs in computer tech to get there that we have a long road ahead of us. If a petaflop system is going to take over 20-30 MW now, just imagine what an exaflop will require!

Hint, it's much worse than a linear extrapolation.

Second Hint: to make it a sustained exaflop system will require probably more than 10 exaflops of peak and some very good and intelligent reworks of compiler tech.

When I can beat my coworkers into posting the paper I'll put a link here.

China to Launch Second Lunar Probe 2009

China hopes to launch its second moon-orbiting satellite in 2009, state media reported Friday, as the country steps up its space programme.


Chang'e-1 is the first stage of a programme that aims to land an unmanned rover on the moon by 2012 and put a man there by about 2020.

Beijing said it planned to launch a record number of spacecraft this year, state media reported Tuesday.

Up the ante. ;)

Propithecus verreauxi coronatus: Too Cute for Words

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Obama's Letter to Puerto Rico

"Puerto Rico's status must be based on the principle of self-determination," he wrote. "As President I will work closely with the Puerto Rican government, its civil society and with Congress to create a genuinely transparent process for self-determination that will be true to the best traditions of democracy. As President I will actively engage Congress and the Puerto Rican people in promoting this deliberative, open and unbiased process, that may include a constitutional convention, or a plebiscite, and my Administration will adhere to a policy of strict neutrality on Puerto Rican status matters. My Administration will recognize all valid options to resolve the question of Puerto Rico's status, including commonwealth, statehood, and independence."
That settles Obama's position wrt Puerto Rico.

I don't support commonwealth status. I believe that the only constitutionally viable, morally acceptable is is either we need to incorporate them as a state or set them free as a separate nation. Because Congress has granted Puerto Ricans American citizenship, this ahs its own problems as well though.

Paleocene Sauropod?!

Scientists have found the fossil of a new herbivorous dinosaur species that stood five meters (5.5 yards) high and lived 60 million years ago, the official Xinhua agency reported on Thursday.

The large long-necked sauropod, which was found in Eastern Zhejiang province and has not yet been named, was around 15 meters long, the report quoted a museum curator as saying.

Something can't be right here. 60 million years ago?!

This has got to be a press release boo-boo.

Waiting for those of you that have paper access.


If my experience with miltech development is any guide at all, the "modifications" for this will either be standard very soon (quietly so) or already were but can't be advertised as such.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh geez

Beverly Parr, a Southern California psychiatrist, was called to the stand by the defense. Parr said she's known Hans Reiser since he was 2 or 3 years old. Defense attorney William Du Bois made it clear that Parr wasn't being called to render a medical opinion but began discussing Asperger's syndrome as it's listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Otherwise known as DSM-IV, the text is generally considered by psychiatrists as the bible of their profession.

Asperger's syndrome (with blink tag)


You have got to be KIDDING me!

Putin to Medvedev: I am on Top ONLY

President Vladimir Putin’s February 8 speech on Russia’s development strategy through to 2020 and his final annual president press conference on February 14, together with the speech that his designated successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, delivered to the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum on February 15, have provided fresh grist for speculation about the likely configuration of power following Medvedev’s virtually certain victory in March 2 presidential election and Putin’s presumed accession to the post of prime minister. While nothing can be stated definitively, the addresses by Putin and Medvedev, both in form and substance, strengthened the sense that a transfer of political power from the post of president to the post of prime minister is in the offing.

As a number of observers have noted, Putin’s speech on Russia’s development plans was noteworthy – if for nothing else – for sounding much less like a valedictory than a speech by a national leader who plans to be in charge for a good while longer. Indeed, while describing the problems and failures of governance of the 1990s and trumpeting the putative successes of his own presidency over the last eight years, Putin laid out a series of ambitious goals for the country over the next dozen years.


In other words, Putin’s comments sounded like those of a prospective head of state while Medvedev’s sounded like those of a prospective head of government.

I do believe that jsut confirms that.

Another Incompetent Bushie

MR. MORRELL: Listen, you're talking -- this -- I majored in English and -- I majored in government and English. I'm not familiar with how we take down satellites.


Nevermind that it happens to be directly related to your job. There are plenty of people that get majors in one degree and then work in a completely different area. Yet Another Dumb@$$ Bushie.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ickes Causes Sticky

Does Harold Ickes complicate Hillary Clinton’s appeals to Puerto Rican superdelegates?

Francisco Domenech, a superdelegate supporting Hillary Clinton in Puerto Rico, thinks that Ickes, her point-man on the wrangling of superdelegates, may find himself having to explain his work on behalf of one side of the flammable issue of Puerto Rico's national status.

Domenech, who supports statehood for Puerto Rico, pointed out that the three remaining undecided superdelegates in Puerto Rico are all proponents of maintaining commonwealth status. Ickes, who became a lobbyist after working at President Bill Clinton's deputy chief of staff, was an adviser to former Governor Pedro Rossello in the battle for statehood.

"If they know of Ickes' background—they are going to question him on that," said Domenech, a Democratic National Committeeman. "And he is going to have to answer—tell them whether he is going to be advocating X or Y resolution to a problem. But the counterproposal—if they go back and let's say for argument's sake they are for commonwealth, what does that do for the statehood superdelegates? They have a tightrope to walk, because they can't upset our side."

The conventional wisdom is that Clinton will win the late-scheduled primary in Puerto Rico because she has done better than Barack Obama among Latino voters so far. (On a conference call Saturday morning, Ickes suggested that the campaign was counting on Puerto Rico to put Clinton over the top in the delegate count. "On June 7, when Puerto Rico votes," he said, "she will be neck and neck and shorty after that will wrap up the nomination.")

Domenech argued that the status issue would be very important to Puerto Rican Democratic primary voters, who he said are about evenly divided between commonwealth and statehood.

Two things: first that Clinton picked a pro-statehood candidate seems like a misstep. Secondly, that PR, a territory rather than a state, might put a candidate over the top is just odd. Understandable, but odd. Not too long ago, I was reading that it was likely the Repugnants were going to be in this sticky situation. Interesting how this stuff flips around so quickly.

Death Knell for HELSTF

The High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range has cut down on contractors due to budget cuts for fiscal year 2008.

According to a statement issued by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/U.S. Army Forces Strategic Command, 30 contract workers have been laid off so far and another seven have left of their own accord.

HELSTF has two primary support contractors, according to the statement TRESCO Inc., of Las Cruces, the facility support contractor, and Northrup-Grumman, of Albuquerque, the technical support contractor.

The SMDC/ARSTRAT statement reports TRESCO has released 23 of its 50-person work force, while Northrop-Grumman has released seven of its 62. Both contractors coordinated these actions with the HELSTF facility director. As of Feb. 11, seven additional Northrup-Grumman employees voluntarily resigned in order to pursue employment opportunities elsewhere.

HELSTF is currently carrying out high-power chemical laser testing for the Air Force. This testing is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2008, according to the statement. HELSTF must have customer support to remain active and open; if additional customers fail to emerge, there may be additional reductions in contractor staff.

HELSTF's budget has been reduced from $16 million for fiscal year 2007 to $2.8 million for FY 2008, according to the statement. However, Congress has provided $6 million of additional funding, so HELSTF has an operating budget of $8.8 million for FY 2008. The budget difference makes a reduction in contractors inevitable, the statement said.

Too bad. It was an interesting place to work. However, given that chemical lasers are a technological dead end, its not surprising. Also given how the place was managed...oy.

Attack of the Spam Blogs

I noticed something odd a few days ago. Technorati, a site for keeping track of who links to you, started coughing up some blogs that I didn't recognize (I'm not going to link to them from here: I don't want to raise their authority at all). After I went and checked them out, all they seem to be is a spider that goes out and links to blog entries with key phrases. I had thought that the spiders seem to be pretty dumb at first blush - after all what does skin care have to do with gorgonopsids?! Or pet security?!

Two thoughts came to me then. Either this is a way to merely draw people to their oddball site with its advertising in some vain and stupid belief that I am interested in clicking on ads from a spam site. Or, if it had been only one, site doing it that someone was testing their new automated aggregator software. However, its not one blog, but at least four.

Here I was getting all excited about my Authority rising on technorati and...its largely fake. *sighs*

Monday, February 18, 2008

Boneyard 13

Greg Laden has the latest Bone Yard up. I am a couple days late in recognizing the fact. oy.

Solar cell directly splits water for hydrogen

Plants trees and algae do it. Even some bacteria and moss do it, but scientists have had a difficult time developing methods to turn sunlight into useful fuel. Now, Penn State researchers have a proof-of-concept device that can split water and produce recoverable hydrogen.

"This is a proof-of-concept system that is very inefficient. But ultimately, catalytic systems with 10 to 15 percent solar conversion efficiency might be achievable," says Thomas E. Mallouk, the DuPont Professor of Materials Chemistry and Physics. "If this could be realized, water photolysis would provide a clean source of hydrogen fuel from water and sunlight."


Mallouk and W. Justin Youngblood, postdoctoral fellow in chemistry, together with collaborators at Arizona State University, developed a catalyst system that, combined with a dye, can mimic the electron transfer and water oxidation processes that occur in plants during photosynthesis. They reported the results of their experiments at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science today in Boston.

Very interesting. I wish I knew moe about chemistry to venture an opinion about whether or not this might be scalable.

Once Upon the Permian: Gazes of Fear

Once Upon the Permian...

While I have been working on my Permian ecology post, I have come AGAIN to realize that the world of paleontology lacks some good accessible works on the therapsids. There are a few, but they are ridiculously priced and few and far between. I have been thinking for some time that we need to get Darren to write a general book on the subject, but my contribution to that cause is going to be a little ways off.

While exploring the therapsids, the Late Permian Ecology, and the Permian Extinction, I have been increasingly fascinated by our cousins that are no longer with us. Of the various different critters, I have been reading about the dicynodonts, gorgonopsids, and therocephalians. The therocephalians are of those three the most mammalian. I'll save these guys for another time. The other two are rather interesting and really different from ourselves.

The dicyondonts, however, are one of the two of those that are really different from mammals: they're our relatives as synapsids, but they have beaks, bite and chew rather differently than anything mammalian. The most famous of these happens to be Lystrosaurus. However, they are not going to be the topic of the post.

The remaining therapsids that I find so fascinating, gorgonopsids, are going to be the actual objects of this post's focus of attention. They are equally fascinating and interesting critters. They are not what you would expect at all. They are not reptiles. They are not mammals. They are something, fascinatingly unique. In some ways, it is really too bad that none of them made it past the Permian Extinction. They are a engrossing subject.

They're WHAT?!

The first gorgon was described by Richard Owen in 1876 in his book Fossil Reptilia of South Africa. It had been excavated from the Karoo Basin in South Africa. Owen and others did a disservice to our cousins the Gorgons and, for that matter, the rest of the extended "family" found in the Karoo. He referred to them as mammal-like reptiles. This miscategorization has lasted even until today. Synapsids, which the therapsids including the gorgons and our own fellow mammals, are not reptiles. We're all amniotes which is not all the same thing.

To be sure, it's not really fair to criticize Owen for that. He was working in a time when people were just starting to figure out the natural world. The world had been categorized in simpler terms: mammals were fuzzy, gave milk, and warm blooded. Reptiles were scaly and cold blooded. They were distinct categories and rather different. As far as they could tell there were big gaps between the reptiles and mammals and nothing that might be somewhere between existed.

That's what these fossils seemed to show. They had a few traits that fit with mammals. There were a lot more, at that first blush, were like reptiles. Hence, they got the name "mammal-like reptiles." The name has definitely been persistant. When I was growing up it was around and even now in some of my daughter's books the synapsids, especially the therapsids, are still referred to by that misnomer.

So what are they really? We'll do a quick run down. Synapsids are not really reptiles, but developed along side the diapsids and anapsids. They are all descended, probably, from a single common ancestor that developed from amphibians (note: not modern lissamphibia, Lissamphibia is only one category of greater amphibia) during the Carboniferous Period. They developed adaptions to terrestrial life that allowed them to break the necessity to return to water for breeding or to keep their skin moist as has been suggested as necessary for many paleo amphibian types and, definitely, all modern ones.

From there, two or three lineages, depending on whom you read, split. One is the synapsids: they had one hole on each side of the skull for the jaw muscles to attach to. These gave rise to the famous Dimetrodon, one of my daughter's favourite critters, the gorgons, and mammals. Another was the diapsids and as you might guess from their name, their skulls had two holes. These gave rise to lizards, pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and birds. The last group, the anapsids, is best known by those that are left today: the turtles. They did have a number of number of relatives in the past, but most went extinct during the Permian Extinction.

The synapsids would eventually give rise to what we group together and call the therapsids. Of the groups I mentioned in the beginning of the post, the one that does not appear in the above family tree is the dicynodonts: that's because they are within Anomodontia. This is where we tie back into the actual topic of the post: the gorgons, seen above as gorgonopsia.

A Gaze Out of Legend

At a first glance, the gorgons look like they are something of a cross between a dog and a lizard. Almost as though some poor pit bull woke up from a night that had one too many drinks to find it had done something wild and crazy with a Komodo Dragon. Then she had to live with the consequences of it. oy. Or perhaps you might think they're just fugly otters. Either way, they do seem like they are out of someone's nightmare and made flesh - or fossil! - as it might be.

The next most striking thing about the gorgonopsids, if you were to look at them, is that they pack one big honking canine tooth. In fact, they are one of the first of our line, the synapsids, to have developed a sabre tooth, long, long, long before smilodon or the other felids. Like the sabre tooths of the Cenozoic, there's a lot of question with respect to how the gorgonopsids used their uber 'canines' to kill. Now if only I could get Manabu Sakamoto of The Raptor's Nest to take a look like he did for Smilodon...*hint*hint* (However...[1])

Since we're on the topic of the teeth, let's take a look at them in general. The first big note is that like most synapsids, the gorgonopsids were heterodonts. That is to say, they had a mix of different sized teeth for different functions. It's pretty easy to see from the sabre tooth mentioned before and the incisors. However, the post canine teeth are pretty small, fewer than in earlier synapsids, and, most importantly, in the skulls recovered so far, show no regular wear patterns. This strongly implies that the gorgons didn't actually chew. They bit, ripped, and tore off their food to swallow it. When they tore meat off the carcass they would thrust their lower jaw forward to allow them to bite off meat without the interference of their sabre teeth. It possibly would have allowed them to scrape meat pretty efficiently off of bones, etc. that would have been otherwise left to scavengers.

If you also take a look, at their skulls, and the papers associated with them, you will find out more about the gorgonopsid senses. One of the discoveries is that in at least one gorgonopsid skull there seems to be a very well developed sense of smell. A VERY well developed sense of smell. In fact, their nose is so developed that some have suggested that this is evidence of endothermy, but we'll discuss that later. On the flip side, gorgonopsids had very poor hearing. From what has been written that I have access to, they had hearing good enough for low frequency sounds, but little to none for the higher frequencies. It could hear a herd of dicynodonts or scutosauruses trundle along, but not the buzz of flying insect. This tells us that it could have used its hearing to get a general idea of where prey was at, but could not track them if they were, well, whistling. More likely is that they tracked their prey with their sense of smell which was pretty good and their vision which also appears to have been quite good. Also odd and interesting is that in the skulls there appears to be evidence of, well, for lack of a better word: whiskers. What in the world a gorgonopsid would use whiskers for is an interesting question!

Interestingly, this ties in with another bit: there appears to have been one confirmed skin impression for the therapsids. This was for Estemmenosuchus. There were hints in what I have read that there was one for a gorgonopsid, but it might be that the authors were conflating the two. The skin impression was not what you would expect if you were examining a reptile. It was smooth. There were no impressions at all of scales. Zip. Nada. There were pores. Yes, pores. However, there was no sign of hair. The gorgons might have had whiskers, but no hair. Odd that picture. If you were to try to imagine therapsid skin, think rhinoceros and you might be there. Partially, okay? So how does this also tie in with the sense of smell? It would seem that its very likely that like mammals today, scent glands were present. This means that gorgonopsids - and other therapsids - could have had scent and visual displays instead of sonic ones for mating and courtship. No howling. No singing or chirping. Though there might have been some impressive displays, even brutal ones, visually. And aromatically.

Moving postcranially for the moment, there are two notable features. The first one is the stance of the legs. Most reconstructions have them slightly sprawled in the front. Some, however, disagree pretty strongly. There seems to be something of an on going fight that echoes the ones reconstructing the ceratopsians. These have been a little more muted only because the gorgonopsids are not nearly as popular. Interestingly, it does seem that those that are arguing for the more sprawled state of the front legs state that the joints are interestingly reminiscent of crocodilian ones. Namely, they think, that the gorgons would have had a 'high walk' and a 'low walk' like crocodiles do today. What's at stake though if we argue over the reconstruction of the forelegs? What's at stake is speed: how fast could a gorgon run? If they were not able to do a high walk, the answer is "slowly." On the other hand, if they only did a "high walk" then we're likely to have seen them more as oddball wolves or bears or whatnot. BTW, no one seems to argue over the rear legs, they were straight under the body like modern mammals and, - interestingly! - ceratopsians.

The second postcranial detail to consider deals with whether or not the gorgonopsids had a diaphragm respiratory system like modern mammals. The answer is...we don't know. The rib arrangement on the specimens that were published on would rule against this, but I haven't found a paper on the "completest gorgonopsid skeleton ever found"as yet about any studies of that specimen's respiratory system though. On the other hand, Ward, I believe, stated in one of his books that it turned out not to be a gorgon after all. Anyways, if the gorgons lacked a diaphragm for breathing then again, it would cripple them for sustained pursuit of their prey or rivals unlike modern mammals or large avians. However, based on the trackways that have been found in South Africa from dicynodonts, the gorgons wouldn't have had to run fast to go after them: the dicynodonts waddled rather slowly. Both bits would lend credence to Ward's hyp/hyperoxia hypothesis for having a major impact on evolution as he outlined in Out of Thin Air, especially as to why the Gorgons didn't make it through the Permian Extinction.

Warm of Heart? Hot Bodied?

One of the big debates with regard to the gorgons is whether or not they were endothermic. While they didn't have the diaphragm lung setup, they may well have still been endothermic. Some hold that the bone growth patterns do not support endothermy. Animals that are endothermic grow their bones one way, and those that are ectothermic grow them rather differently. The gorgons' bones to date seem to lean towards ectothermy. On the other hand, the nasal configuration is one only found in modern mammals...which are exclusively endotherms. The problem is that other than the bone development, the other traits from the fossil skeletons are a bit weak one way or another for supporting endothermy. The question is whather or not these traits might have developed in the therapsid line prior to becoming warm blooded. It looks like there is a good chance here that is the case since the way that I have seen the bone growth for gorgons described fits that of an ectotherm. With the above it looks pretty solid that the gorgonopsids were ectotherms and had they survived until the dinosaurs had started evolving, they would have been outcompeted. However, there is a very interesting bit of evidence is that almost equally compelling that runs contrary to the bone growth.

This evidence is actually paleoecological in nature. In modern ecosystems, if the predators in the ecology are endotherms, they make up a very small percentage of the total individual animals living in that ecology: the predators require far, far more prey to maintain their metabolism and that prey must be able to sustain its population. If the predators are ectotherms, they make up a vastly larger number of individuals percentage wise of the total living in that ecology. If we take a look at the ecologies where the gorgonopsids lived, what do we see? We actually see predator to prey ratios that match our modern ecologies. This would very strongly imply that they are endothermic.

One area that is not controversial is that the gorgonopsids wherever they lived were the top predators. There are three general locales that have provided gorgonopsids. The first two are the most famous: the Karoo of South Africa and the Urals of near Perm, Russia (whence the Permian gets its name). The third locale is in China. This would be the Shangshihezi Formation (Upper Shihezi Formation) of Jiyuan, Henan. Apparently, the fossils there are of very poor preservation though and I have only found one reference to them so far. In every place, the gorgons dominated the top predator niches. They varied from dog sized to quite large in Russia, Inostrancevia, which apparently grew at times to be as large as 4.3m (14 ft) long. If I were a betting man, I'd probably go for an Inostrancevia eating the Grizzly, personally.

However, how they hunted is controversial. Some maintain that their brains were underdeveloped and too small for real social interaction. Many of the detractors of social gorgons state that they were probably solitary hunters. However, there's an issue, While there were some truly large gorgons, like Inostrancevia, the majority were dog size or a bit larger. Since a good chunk of their prey were heavily armored anapsids, the pareiasaurs, either the gorgons would have only preyed on the wounded, near dead, or young if they were solitary hunters. Or! they would have had to have worked together to bring down an adult pareiasaur. There are a good number of researchers that have suggested that the gorgons were pack hunters, or at least the moderate sized ones. The question is then, is there any evidence of any kind that might settle this? In fact there is. The Synapsids seem to have been social long prior to the evolution of the gorgons.

There is, however, another bit of paleobiology about gorgonopsids that is controversial: did they care for their young? Really it's nothing more than an extension of the question of just how social these beasts were. There are some workers that hold they laid their eggs and walked away. As far as I can tell, no eggs of a gorgon, or any therapsid, have yet been found. As an aside, its possible they weren't oviviparus at all: Ward brings it up. However, it appears that the question of sociality and especially of parental care might have predated the evolution of the therapsids in the synapsid line. This past fall, Dr Both-Brink of The National Museum (of South Africa) reported finding very strong fossil evidence of an adult pelycosaur in a "family group" with four juveniles. If this holds up and more supporting evidence is found, baring in mind that the only surviving synapsids, the mammals, uniformly care for their young and are social from the very extreme of the monotremes to the other of end of the spectrum of humans, bats and bear: we all care for our young. The simplest explanation is that parental care and sociality are primitive relative to the therapsids. To prove it, we need more fossils of prior to and continuing through the therapsid evolution. As for the gorgons? It will be a challenge to nail this one down past supposition: gorgon fossils are not very common at all and there are a mere handful of locales with terrestrial sequences at all for the time frame that gorgons existed. Perhaps in time, we'll get lucky.

Articulus finis

The Gorgons had a good run of it. They first appeared in the Middle Permian and lasted up to the Permian Extinction. While that is far better than our own hominid line has done to date, the gorgons have seem to have "only" survived for 20 million years. In comparison, the Cenozoic - the so-called Age of Mammals comprised of the Paleogene and Neogene - is 65 million years in length. Or alternately, the theropods were the dominate - and virtually only - megafauna carnivores in the Mesozoic lasted in the same niche of top carnivore for well over 165 million years as the gorgons did for a "mere" 20 million years.

Their reign of terror was cut short by the Permian Extinction, as noted. You have to wonder what would they have evolved into had the Permian Extinction been skipped: imagine that the Permian didn't "end" until the Triassic of our timeline. What-if the the radical changes and innovations of the Permian had another fifty million years? Or even another twenty-three million years! Would the trend for size increase continued? Would we have seen 7+ meter long gorgonopsids that would have had ubercanines that would make a T rex pass out? Ones that were used to feed on dicynodonts that were the size of elephants? Or larger? Or would the therapsids, cut down so much by the PT Event, have generated even more odd and interesting critters? Ones that we would have have even imagined. After the exposition of the Permian Terrestrial Ecology, then I hope to do a speculative extended Permian evolution (ie What-if No Permian Extinction & consequences) in the vein of the Specworld works. I could use some collaborators (*hint*hint*).

In any rate, in our timeline, the gorgonopsids did succumb to the Permian Extinction. Was it because their main prey animals died out (ie the giant anapsids)? Or was it that one last remnant population get trapped by hypoxic highlands in a single remaining "lush" valley where they might have made it through to the Triassic only to be wiped out by a storm that carried in some rather nasty hydrogen sulfide contaminated rain? Or were the last Gorgons huddled, panting around slowly dwindled waterhole in the middle of a dying oasis in the midst of the grinding, expanding, desolate desert? We don't know. We can't know. Just ask Signor and Lipps.

What the gorgons from what we have found so far, did produce what looks like 25 unique genera and 41 different species. That's none too bad really since there are only two places where there are chronologically appropriate, fossiliferous strata good enough to undercover nameable taxa: the Chinese locale has only produced low quality examples that while generally recognizable as coming from this or that family are simply unsuitable to be used for more exacting identification. That's too bad. There are so few late Permian terrestrial sequences out there, never mind ones that cross the PT boundary, that it almost feels like a crime against paleontology.

T'were I a rich man, I'd be paying for geologists and paleo types to go out into the places where we don't have good geological maps to find more good locales. Tying back to the phylogeny aspect of the gorgons for a moment, if I were also a rich man, I'd be paying for a serious and up to date cladistic and phylogenic review. Perhaps when I get old and retire, I'll go back and get a PhD[2] in paleontology to work to cover the therapsids more. :D

There you have it: a basic run down on the Gorgons, the fearsome toothed, non-reptile semi-mammals from the closing chapter of the Paleozoic. I hope that it was at least somewhat satisfying. And worth the wait. I really needed to excise a lot of this from the long promised Permian Terrestrial Ecology post (it was expounded on a bit here).

1. Hmmm. There appears to have been some work done by a former Bristol type: a one Ian Jenkins, but he's apparently not there anymore since I emailed and it bounced. I have found some (pdf) abstracts about the reevolution of gorgonopsid like "craniodental adaptations" in moschorhinid therocephalians after the PT Event. Apparently, whatever exact niche that drove the gorgonopsids to evolve their uber fangs to hunt was still present despite the PT Extinction munching on so much. Perhaps a Raptor's Nest review of the above for the unannoited.

2. If I ever get my undergrad in physics done.

Friday, February 15, 2008

British Champagne

"There are (French) Champagne producers who have bought land in Sussex and Kent," in southern England, he told the newspaper El Periodico.

For some reason, that just sounds oh-so-wrong.

Antarctic life hung by a thread during ice ages

Frozen in time… frozen in place… frozen solid… All of these phrases have been used to describe Antarctica, and yet they all belie the truth about this southerly point on the globe. Although the area is covered in ice and bears witness to some of the most extreme cold on the planet, this ecosystem is dynamic, not static, and change here has always been dramatic and intense. A report published in the March issue of Ecology argues that the extreme cold and environmental conditions of past Ice Ages have been even more severe than seen today and changed life at the Antarctic, forcing the migration of many animals such as penguins, whales and seals. Understanding the changes of the past may help scientists to determine how the anticipated temperature increases of the future will work to further transform this continent.

Extreme cold and lasting darkness have always worked to limit the productivity of the microscopic algae in Antarctica. The availability of such algae drives the entire region’s food web, from one-celled organisms to top predators such as whales and seals, making life in this region challenging for all kinds of animals.

But during the Ice Ages, animals in Antarctica faced conditions even more life-threatening. Massively thick and permanent ice covered most of the land, and sea-ice coverage around the continent was permanent. The Antarctic continental shelf was glaciated and most seafloor animals dodged extinction by emigrating into deeper waters.

Sven Thatje from the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science (UK) has been studying geological records of the area for such insights. He and his team from the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge and the German Alfred Wegener Institute have found that penguins, whales and seals were very dependant upon areas of open water known as polynyas. The polynyas, the team contends, must have existed far south of the present winter sea-ice boundaries, and far north of the Antarctic shelf.

How anything survived the last ice age in Antarctica is a good question. How and what died out because of the glaciation of Antarctica is an even more intriguing question. Did we lose Tundra loving xenatharians? Were there other critters there that died out all other places? The science there is a complete mystery so far.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Well, Finally!

Clinton Wins NM Caucuses. Sheesh that took a while.

Then There Was One Less?

It appears that the Raptor I mentioned earlier that I am on rotation may be homelandless: SGI just bought lotsa $TECH from LNXI, in fact all their "core assets." RIP LNXI?

5k Light Years Away Exists a System Much Like Our Own?

Scaled versions of Jupiter and Saturn orbiting a star 5000 light-years away, half as massive as the Sun, have been revealed from an effort involving a world-wide net of telescopes, including the UK's Liverpool Telescope on the Canary Islands. This marks the first discovery of another system of planets that has striking similarities with our Solar System. Moreover, it suggests that such giant planets do not favour the single-life but are more likely to be found in family groups. The research is published in the 15th February issue of Science.

Whilst there are more than 250 planets now known, there are only about 25 such systems with multiple planets and the newly discovered system resembles our own Solar System more closely than any previously observed.

Dr Martin Dominik, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, points out "Our gravitational microlensing technique is currently best suited for studying extra-solar planets that resemble the gas giants of the Solar System at their respective orbital radii, given that we do not need to wait for many years for them to complete their orbit."

The two newly discovered planets have revealed their existence through characteristic signatures in the received light during the gravitational microlensing event OGLE-2006-BLG-109. Rather than orbiting the observed star, these are associated with an unseen foreground star, systematically designated OGLE-2006-BLG-109L (where 'L' stands for 'lens), whose gravitational field (together with that of the planets) bent the light of the observed background star, with which it happened to be closely aligned.

While planet OGLE-2006-BLG-109Lb with 0.71 Jupiter masses is 2.3 times as far from its host star as the Earth is from the Sun, the less massive OGLE-2006-BLG-109Lc, 0.27 times the mass of Jupiter resides at twice the distance from its host star as its fellow companion.

Despite of the fact that their host star is only half as massive as the Sun, and therefore cooler, the OGLE-2006-BLG-109L planetary system otherwise bears a remarkable similarity to our Solar System. Both the ratio between the two masses of the detected giant planets (close to 3:1) and the ratio between their orbital radii (1:2) are remarkably similar to those of Jupiter and Saturn. Similarly, the ratio between the orbital periods of 5 years and 14 years, respectively, resembles that between Jupiter and Saturn (2:5).
Y'know, I have to wonder if a system like this one - and our own - requires a lower luminosity than is the norm for this to happen. hrm. This is onyl a 1/4 formed thought because I'm dealing with anthropocene T rexes and 'raptors again.

Romney to Endorse McCain

After their bitter slug match, I'm only a touch surprised. Even with that much of a surprise, I shouldn't be at all, really. This is the rather chameleon and slippery Romney here after all.

$1 trillion Carbon Trading Market in 2020?

The United States will be home to a $1 trillion carbon emission market by 2020 if federal and state policymakers continue on their current path towards a comprehensive "cap-and-trade" program that is confined to domestic trading only. In an analysis of bills today before the U.S. Congress, New Carbon Finance research economists based in New York, Washington D.C. and London, U.K. predict that in 12 years a carbon-constrained U.S. economy that includes a cap-and-trade system allowing only domestic trades will produce:

* A $1 trillion carbon trading market -- more than twice the size of the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme;

* A carbon price of $40 per tonne as soon as 2015, which will result in a rise in consumer energy prices in real terms of roughly 20% for electricity, 12% for gasoline and 10% for natural gas -- as well as impacts on other prices as higher energy and transportation costs filter through the economy; and

* Major U.S. investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and greenhouse gas mitigation projects and technologies.

The analysis was released Feb. 14 by Michael Liebreich, CEO of New Energy Finance, parent of New Carbon Finance, attending climate change roundtable discussions at U.N. headquarters, New York.

That market is HUGE relative to the economy of that time. I really wish I had been able to entice the economically more competent than I (*cough*Noel*cough*Carlos*cough*) to do a compare and contrast about the carbon tax/tariff vs the cap & trade schemes.

How much revenue will go to the government under this I wonder?

Sssshhhh! They're listening!

Turns out my blog has turned up in management meetings. Thank goodness I don't normally discuss lots of work.

(Hi Dr Yelick!)

US Plans on Shooting Down Dead Satellite

The Pentagon is planning to shoot down a broken spy satellite expected to hit the Earth in early March, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said Thursday that the option preferred by the Bush administration will be to fire a missile from a U.S. Navy cruiser, and shoot down the satellite before it enters Earth's atmosphere.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the options will not be publicly discussed until a later Pentagon briefing.

The disabled satellite is expected to hit the Earth the first week of March. Officials said the Navy would likely shoot it down before then, using a special missile modified for the task. Other details about the missile and the targeting were not immediately available.

But the decision involves several U.S. agencies, including the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Defense and the State Department. Shooting down a satellite is particularly sensitive because of the controversy surrounding China's anti-satellite test last year, when Beijing shot down one of its defunct weather satellites, drawing immediate criticism from the U.S. and other countries.

A key concern at that time was the debris created by Chinese satellite's destruction -- and that will also be a focus now, as the U.S. determines exactly when and under what circumstances to shoot down its errant satellite.

The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky.

Also, there is the possibility that large pieces could remain, and either stay in orbit where they can collide with other satellites or possibly fall to Earth.

It is not known where the satellite will hit. But officials familiar with the situation say about half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft is expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and will scatter debris -- some of it potentially hazardous -- over several hundred miles.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Hmmmm. The Chinese made a bold move with their rook. Shall I reveal all my pawns are really bishops? What if they really aren't? What if the contractors gave me all knights instead? Or just said they were bishops and they're still pawns. hmmmm.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Kewl African Theropods

Two 110-million-year-old fossils of meat-eating dinosaurs that once ruled the southern continents have been found in Africa, scientists announced.

First discovered in 2000, the new species are theropods—two-legged carnivores—that lived in the same habitat and grew to about 25 feet (7.6 meters) long.

Eocarcharia dinops, or "fierce-eyed dawn shark," was likely an ambush predator armed with massive, shark-like teeth. Kryptops palaios, or "old hidden face," is thought have been a hyena-like scavenger that feasted on carcasses.

The dinosaurs were discovered in Africa's Sahara Desert by Paul Sereno, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago and a National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

The bizarre-looking dinosaurs are described in the latest issue of the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

Those are some really impressive renderings. I wonder if we'll set Zach off on rendering too much from too little. ;)

The images are from National Geographic.

Let's go to Titan to Get OIL!!!

Saturn's orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new Cassini data. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes.

The new findings from the study led by Ralph Lorenz, Cassini radar team member from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, USA, are reported in the 29 January 2008 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters.

"Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material--it's a giant factory of organic chemicals," said Lorenz. "This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan."

At a balmy minus 179o C , Titan is a far cry from Earth. Instead of water, liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane are present on the moon's surface, and tholins probably make up its dunes. The term 'tholins' was coined by Carl Sagan in 1979 to describe the complex organic molecules at the heart of prebiotic chemistry.

Cassini has mapped about 20% of Titan's surface with radar. Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with each of several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth's oil and gas reserves. The dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth's coal reserves.

Oh James!!! Is this as good as the He3 moon colonization taunts I send you?

A bit more seriously, this is a pretty exciting discovery.

Canuckistani "Cure" for the Common Cold?

Researchers at McGill University have discovered a way to boost an organism’s natural anti-virus defences, effectively making its cells immune to influenza and other viruses.

The research was conducted by post-doctoral fellows Dr. Rodney Colina and Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, working in collaboration with Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Scholar at McGill. They worked with colleagues at l'Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) and the Ottawa Health Research Institute (OHRI). Their results are to be published February 13 in the journal Nature.

Their process – which could lead to the development of new anti-viral therapies in humans – involved knocking out two genes in mice that repress production of the protein interferon, the cell’s first line of defence against viruses. Without these repressor genes, the mouse cells produced much higher levels of interferon, which effectively blocked viruses from reproducing. The researchers tested the process on influenza virus, encephalomyocarditis virus, vesicular stomatitis virus and Sindbis virus.

“People have been worried for years about potential new viral pandemics, such as avian influenzas,” Dr. Sonenberg said. “If we might now have the means to develop a new therapy to fight flu, the potential is huge.”

I wonder if it will work on humans as well as it did on mice. Also I have to wonder what the problems of that much more interferon would be. Would this work on all viruses/virii? If so this could be a huge breakthrough.

I know nada to comment more. It just seems like I ought to try to get the attention of those that do know to see what they think.

The Loom's Batty Post

Carl Zimmer has an excellent post on the new fossils of early Eocene bats. Go read it.

Puerto Rico's Governor Backs Obama

PR Governor is one of those that supports the 'Enhanced Commonwealth' variant of a 'nation within a nation.' It's also been found to be unconstitutional. However, at hand here, since the party delegate count is so close its entirely possible that Puerto Rico might be the deciding set of delegates. It all depends on who ends up controlling the delegates from the territory.

(and, yes, folks, the territories do get to vote in the primaries for the parties. it's the general election that they can't/don't. fyi)

Small Update: Turns out he's a superdelegate for the Democratic Party and PR's primary is on June 7th.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Russia Threatens Ukraine

Russia has said it may target its missiles at Ukraine if its neighbour joins Nato and accepts the deployment of the US missile defence shield.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made the comments in Moscow alongside Ukraine's President, Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr Putin has condemned US plans to include Poland and the Czech Republic in its missile defence shield.

The leaders had been meeting in urgent talks over a gas dispute and announced a deal to avoid disrupting supplies.


Speaking at a news conference at the Kremlin on Tuesday, Mr Putin said he had advised Ukraine not to join Nato, but admitted he would be unable to interfere in any such move.

"Restrictions on sovereignty... have already had certain consequences, such as the stationing of bases or a positioning area for missile defence in Eastern Europe, which we believe is aimed at neutralising our nuclear missile potential," he said.

"Russia therefore faces a need to take retaliatory action."

oy. The missile defense system proposed by the US for installation in Poland and Czech Republic is only sufficient to take the option of a single, double, or at best an ten missile salvo off the table. This causes issues only for those nations with a handful of missiles. However, as I wrote before, Russia finds this unacceptable as a limit on their use of nuclear weapons in specific scenarios.

US Considering ASAT Shot

U.S. officials are studying the possibility of shooting down the errant Lockheed Martin intelligence satellite that was launched into space for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

The concern is that the spacecraft carries a full tank of hydrazine - a toxic propellant - that would have been used to reposition the satellite in orbit. Government analysts say the odds are that the tank will crack open during re-entry or than it will land in the ocean, which makes up 70% of the area where the breaking up satellite might land. There also is concern in some quarters that debris could reveal U.S. national security secrets if recovered by other nations. It is expected to re-enter the atmosphere late this month or in early March.

Analysts at the Missile Defense Agency and NRO have put hundreds of hours into analysis and have studied closely the accuracy of surveillance capabilities of U.S. radars in Japan, Alaska and possibly elsewhere to give more targeting options to those assessing the danger of the satellite falling to Earth.

A senior official with insight into the planning says that a rumor that the satellite carried a small, nuclear generator is "absolutely and totally incorrect." However, government agencies including MDA and NRO "are studying options that include" hitting the satellite with a weapon so that it breaks up in space - and ruptures the hydrazine tank -- before beginning its descent.

If the hydrazine tank did hit a populated area intact, and depending on winds and the dynamics of "plumeology," the impact could affect humans - perhaps kill some - out to a distance of "20-30 yards," the official says.

Hoo boy. If MIRACL is still around, it might be able to do the job. THEL ought to be able to too. IDK what the status of those programs happens to be these days. They are both military class lasers though.