Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Research you can use

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Finally, my aluminum foil expenses can go down … unless this is just what they want me to believe!

It’s always the little things

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

I just finished “Darwin’s Lost World,” which I’d checked out from my local library. It’s a fascinating book, and the author, Martin Brasier, shows that wonderful dry English with throughout.

The book is an attempt to explicate the depths of time, where fossils hadn’t been known to exist – estimates were that the first 80% of the time life has been on earth had no fossils. That turns out to be incorrect. Life follows a power-law distribution – the smaller the organism, the more of them there are. The author is one of the pioneers in investigating micro-fossils and seeing how they explicate the early history of life.

The wit is something that makes the subject better for me. In the description of a multinational expedition to some cliffs in Siberia, for which the transportation scared expedition members more experienced than Mr. Brasier, we find the following:

We jumped down onto the beach. I was tempted to kiss the ground. As it happened, I was obliged to do just that – in a dysenteric sort of way.

A footnote explains that many in the expedition came down with Giardia, which provided them with a new slang meaning for the term, “Cambrian explosion.”

In the section titled “A steppe in the right direction,” we find commentary on the requirement that he acquire a taste for arak (fermented mare’s milk – his description of it is quite evocative) to avoid offending their hosts, finishing with the comment, “And social suicide was something we dared not commit, marooned as we were, in the middle of the steppes of Outer Mongolia. The social niceties of Mongolia can matter very much indeed.”

At one point, he cites a portion of an article written in 1902 by Jephro Teall (channelling my inner Dave Barry for a moment, that sounds like a good name for a rock band).

Apart from my delight in his drolleries, I thought the book was actually quite good. Contrary to expectations, microscopic fossils seem to be better preserved in older rocks, which has allowed the history of early life to be extended to perhaps 3000 million years ago. He covers the difficulties in identifying such fossils, the key question often being not “What does this remind us of?” but “What is this, really?” He covers some of the mistakes made by himself and others in other publications, and does it all in a manner I quite enjoyed.

If you have any desire to read about evolution, particularly about very early evolution, you should consider this book.

Not exactly a quick summer read

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I first heard about the Voynich manuscript when I was in high school. Some years after that, I tried to track down a facsimile edition, but I don’t believe any were made – at least, not in a quantity that would make the price affordable to me.

Now, parts of it are available on the web, which pleases me. Not that I have any delusions about being able to make sense of it; I just like knowing that such things are available.

When you wish upon a star

Friday, June 12th, 2009

… better hope it doesn’t go kaboom.

I find this interesting, and suspect that many, if not most, people alive today may actually get to see this happen … as Betelgeuse shrinks, gravity effects will force the shrinkage to occur more rapidly. How exciting to be an astronomer when this occurs! Normally, we don’t know of nova before they explode; this time it appears that we’ll get to watch it on 600-year “tape delay.”

At that distance, I’d expect that we’d be ok, as long as it doesn’t send a death beam in our direction.

Update: You know, most 14-year-olds don’t get to discover their own supernova, let alone one that’s a new type of stellar phenomenon.

I would whisper to my chickens

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

“With these experiments, I will take your children’s children’s children, and give them great ripping claws like scythes, and razor-sharp serrate fangs like daggers, and I will turn them into multi-story towers of muscle and bone that will be able to trample KFC restaurants as if they were matchboxes.”

Camera, science … LIGHTS!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

When I was in the Navy and sailing in the Pacific, I got to see bioluminescence in the ship’s wake – a blue glow in the water, with brighter “sparks” eddying around occasionally. Fascinating to watch, and I’d love to see it again. I’ve seen fireflies before, although they don’t hang around where I’m currently living, and I’ve never seen the asian fireflies that light up entire trees in unison. This post gives me those and a lot more things to hope to see someday, but none of them have the over-the-top-mad-scientist-cuteness-of-doom vibe of Ruppy, the light-uppy puppy.

Will the Easter Bilby come to your house?

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

It seems unlikely. Even if you’re only considering chocolate.

“Math is hard”

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

But it can be fun. Science is the same way. Here is an archive of e-texts on various subjects. Into the reference blogroll it goes.

Via Steve F. at Daily Pundit.

Oh, this looks like fun

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

… even if it’s called Phun. A 2-D physics simulator, available on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Be sure to watch the video.

Ringed planet under construction – locally

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Russel Seitz points to information from the European Space Agency mapping the growing ring of geostationary satellites and debris.

Ring around earth