Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hoppy now year, everyone
This map by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre examines the travel times from any spot on the globe to the nearest city of 50,000 or more inhabitants by land or water. The surprise?
As NewScientist observes, less than 10% of the world is more than two days away from a major city using ground-based travel. That stat only jumps to 20% when scaled to the Amazon, where river and expanding road networks have made even jungle terrain semi-assessable.
Also, nobody messes with the cold climates.
On one hand, the map is a testament to human advancement and expansion. On the other, well, there are a buncha roads in what was once pristine jungle.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Does this still work?

For a clearer, stereo You tube sound, type this after the URL &fmt=18

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Come aboard for a new year's party. We'll play Sousa marches and Strauss waltzes. We'll serve plenty of tea, cucumber sandwiches and prawn salad. Champagne and Cognac later on. Truffles and hot chestnuts from France. We'll watch the fireworks at midnight and ring in the twentieth century.

I found this on Daily Galaxy some time ago and filched it. They get excellent illustrations. I heartily recommend their site. I have it on my desktop and it never ceases to entertain me despite its commercial aspect. Most of the ads are American and have little relevance to my life.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Robert Hilburn. "Cornflakes with John Lennon"
Madame Roland, Danton, and Robespierre, among others are the main characters in Marge Piercy's rendering of the French Revolution, "City of Darkness, City of Light" (1996).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Lovely large brown moon straight ahead as we came West on Horner, lying down a bit more than this one 15 to 20 degrees above the horizon at 9.20PM

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Daily Galaxy articles

Scientists are asking if we can turbocharge our time perception. In The Matrix, hero Neo wins his battles when time slows in the simulated world. In our real world, accident victims often report a similar slowing of time as they slip unavoidably towards disaster. We've all heard stories of people seeing things happening in bullet time or reviewing their entire about-to-end lives, but if we could toggle this tachypsychian switch by choice it'd be a real-life superpower.
The first question is “Can our consciousness affect our awareness of time?”, which is a tautological yes – of course our ability to be aware of things affects our awareness of things. The fantastically named Professor Eagleman is going further: he wants to find out if time really does slow down for subjects, no matter how many people he has to strap into experimental hardware and hurl off buildings.
The hardware is a “perceptual chronometer”, an LED screen whose patter flickers slightly too fast to make out – it hops between patterns like “3” and “E” but looks like “8” to anyone operating at regular human speed. The “hurling off buildings” bit is SCAD, Suspended Air Catch Device, an activity which berates bungee jumping as wimpy because the latter allows people to slow down. In SCAD jumps you fall off a shaky ledge thirty meters up and fall full speed into a net.
Unfortunately the results are against creating the Flash anytime soon: while test subjects did recall the fall taking longer than it actually did, none could perceive the changing pattern on the watch. This would indicate that the effect is an artifact of memory – the brain writing more data more powerfully than normal, so the recollection seems to last longer than non-traumatic events. The problem is that this temporal effect is the ultimate in subjective data – literally so, as the brain often thinks it's the last thing it'll experience. So when you remember things happening in slow motion, it's the remembering that provided that – not the original event.
Of course there are a thousand and one other factors which could influence this experiment – maybe the brain can deal with data faster, but the frame-rate from the eye doesn't increase. Perhaps the subjects were simply too scared. Or it could be that SCAD just isn't the right way to trigger the temporal boost (in which case God help Eagleman's next victims). There have been cases of people perceiving time differently under cranial magnetic stimulation, or the effect of tumors, but so far they've all resulted in slowing down or simply breaking previously observed effects – it seems that overclocking ourselves isn't an option yet.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab has created the perfect Boomer-bike: A motorized rear wheel. Called the Copenhagen Wheel, it has a small motor in its hub, will fit into any existing bike frame, giving riders extra horsepower for hills and longer distances. The two-year project, unveiled today during the COP-15 climate talks here, is designed to make biking more pleasant in cities everywhere -- and fittingly for the venue, it's emissions-free. The Wheel's battery pack is recharged by pedal power and braking.

The prototype is white with a large red hub at the centre of the back wheel. I think I buy it when it comes out.

Global warming is our current focus, but from 1810 to 1819, people worried because the planet was far colder than usual, with the planet cooling almost a full degree Fahrenheit. 1816 according to climate historians was known as "the year without a summer."
The chill of 1816 has long been blamed on an Indonesian volcano called Tambora, which erupted the year before. But why the years before Tambora's eruption were also colder than usual was a mystery.
Newly uncovered evidence in the ice of Antarctica and Greenland suggests that another volcanic eruption may have contributed to the worldwide dip in temperatures.
Jihong Cole-Dai, a chemistry professor at South Dakota State University, led the expeditions to Antarctica and Greenland, told NPR's Guy Raz in an interview that volcanoes dump large quantities of ash and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which acts "like a giant window shade, reflecting sunlight and lowering temperatures on the ground for years afterward."
But Cole-Dai empasizes that one eruption isn't enough to freeze an entire decade. He knew something else had to have been going on which turned out to be layers of sulfur buried in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica that showed another volcano had erupted some time in 1809, triggering a mini ice age.
Cole-Dai said his research team isn't sure exactly where the mystery volcano is, but they suspect that it was somewhere near the equator and that it had to be large enough to blanket the planet in ash.
Casey Kazan

from Daily Galaxy here

Sunday, December 6, 2009

My little nephew used to call him the Prince of whales

The function of whale song, even the better-studied song of the humpback whale, has long baffled marine scientists. Songs of the blue whale, the planets largest living creature, can be divided into at least 10 types worldwide, each type retaining the same units and similar phrasing over decades, unlike humpback whale song which changes substantially from year to year. That is until recently with a worldwide occurrence of a nearly linear downward shift in the tonal frequencies of blue whale song.

“We don’t have the answer. We just have a lot of recordings,” Whale Acoustics President Mark McDonald explained to Wired. The company specializes in analyzing the cetaceans with sonic monitoring networks and ships. Their recordings are grist for experts hoping to unravel this mystery. “It’s a fascinating finding. It’s even more remarkable, given that the songs themselves differ in different oceans. There seem to be these distinct populations, yet they’re all showing this common shift,” Cascadia Research Collective blue-whale expert John Calombokidis adds.

Historical acoustic recordings dating back as faras the 1960s were examined, measuring the tonal frequencies of 1000s of blue whale songs. Within a given year, individuals match the song frequency (related to ‘pitch’ in musical nomenclature) to within less than 3%.

The best documented song type, that observed offshore of California, USA, now is sung at a frequency 31% lower than it was in the 1960s. Data available for 7 of the world’s 10 known song types show they are all shifting downward in frequency, though at different rates.

From the ever excellent The Daily Galaxy