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27
Apr

A Magnetic Sense of Wander

It turns out that at least some of the vertebrate organisms, i.e. pigeons, sea turtles, perhaps migrating birds generally, have a sense of magnetic field detection.

A representational map of the earth's magnetic field showing inclination and variation.

Though we haven’t found the receptor organs, it’s pretty clear at least in pigeons that specific brain cells are processing magnetic field information.  Just like they had a built in GPS system.  As Le-Quing Wu and J. David Dickman conclude:

We suggest that MR cells encode a geomagnetic vector that could be used by the neural population to computationally derive the bird’s position and directional heading. The geomagnetic vector elevation component could provide the bird’s latitude (Fig. 1), the vector azimuth component could be used as a mag- netic compass to provide heading direction, and the vector magnitude could provide spatial position cues through local variations in intensity (Fig. 1) relative to a learned internal model of geomagnetic space (4, 7, 24).  Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1216567

It’s a very cool study.  Now if we could only find the location(s) of the receptor organs.  Scientists have found genetic evidence, behavioral evidence, neural processing evidence, but the sensory organs, themselves remain elusive.

5
Apr

New 14 Letter Swear Word on island Earth

It’s come to me. I’ve finally discovered a new meaning for a commonly used word.  It’s a politically correct swear word at best, but there have been others––”great leap forward,” “final solution,” “war to end all wars,” etc. But they’ve usually been slogans. Through modern communication and branding we’ve shortened it to one word. This one is deceitful, ugly, full of distortion, related to sex, and a stand-in for good intentions that can never be.  So I say get rid of it, ban it from all languages.

The word is s-u-s-t-a-i-n-a-b-i-l-i-t-y. That’s right! There is nothing, and I do mean nothing sustainable about human activities. There never was and never will be. Perhaps, it references an idyllic state of enlightenment.  I just don’t know.  It’s just not in life’s DNA, nor is it in current human cultures. And that’s the compelling “dirty” truth of our existence and that of pretty much that of every organisms existence; it may actually be why life succeeds at all.  The word insults our intelligence under a green tainted goo.

History is replete, all things make more and populate to the limit of existence––over simplified but somewhat true, bacteria did it, blue-green algae did it by running out of real estate, green plants did it with oxygen pollution, fungus until they destroyed too many plants, herbivores did by eating until they could consume no more, carnivores did it until they ran out of herbivores.  Never a hint at sustainability in any of these communities and populations.  It’s the grand experiment of mutation and reproduction.

In our recent past, there have been some “sustainable” populations and cultures. The closest ever known approximation may have been the infanticidally driven, rigidly controlled cannibals of relatively isolated south sea and west indian island cultures prior to the 1500’s. There weren’t many people on those islands and their religious practices and civilizations kept them that way.  Though we react in horror, these were likely not the anomalies of human behavior we believe them to be and perhaps not as “primitive” as we’d like them to be.

The "cannibals" all look surprisingly european and modern, perhaps the images were closer than fiction

Little did the first European explorer’s or south sea venturing whalers know that they were discovering the future island earth with every culture they encountered in these isolated habitats. And they may be the vanguard of where we’re headed.

The key drivers in almost every instance was resource limitation and these were likely encountered sometime after the human populations grew to an unsupportable limit with the resources at hand, and then limited hard. They are perfect examples of sustainable cultures, and probably harken to our probable future rather than noble past.  Let’s get real, we’re living on island earth, and the current proposition in all it’s”manifest destiny”  is un-sustainability; our future is around us and in our distant past.

The real and only proven act of  sustainability, is the education of and emancipation of human females. And it may be our last best hope.  Though the reasons aren’t clear the correlations are and their implications profound.  Wherever female education happens the fertility rate declines.  Human females, whatever the culture, given information and control, self-regulate their reproductive capabilities with exquisite sensitivity.

4
Mar

Oh Dem Frameworks and Standards!

I come from an seemingly endless line of teachers. One of them, Alva Swain published an article in a local newspaper in rural Minnesota, about 10 years after the end of the Civil War.  There was a major social push for educational reform in the public schools.  Alva was born in Minnesota 1848, and grew up with mostly American Indian playmates.  All I can report is a new chip of the old block and worth a read.  The copying is a little ragged, but it’s the best I could do.

I love the art and science connection.  De rigueur for the times, then as now, true Americana.

4
Mar

Brain Traces

Golden eagle in flight, courtesy of Wikipedia

Just this morning, I had a seminally enlightening moment; something that naturally comes to all of us.

Several days ago, I was attempting to tell a colleague about a place I been gambling with an old time slot machine. I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the name of the town in head, so I completed the story with the town nameless: somewhere in western Nevada, drivable in less than a day from the Bay Area, an related to the TV western Ponderosa. One of those so called senior moments that really aren’t senior nor moments, but most likely fragile neural traces of formed by tenuous connections of dendritic cellular paths I seldom wander.

Stuck in my mind, not Reno, not Carson City, not Minden, frustrated, I dropped that thought, it will be there at some point in the future I reassured myself.

Leap ahead 4 days, I’m up on Sunday morning reading the SF Chronicle, and pick up a story about the development of San Francisco’s Tenderloin. It turns out that one of the first recorded SF brothels was founded in 1884 by Miss Inez Leonard formerly of Nevada City, Nevada.

Bingo! that was my city of memory frustration. Right there while looking at the paper, I had my answer. What was interesting about this re-recollection was that I was immediately thrust down another branch of the story, not gambling, not prostitution but my first observation of mating Golden eagles aerially dancing in the sky with dramatic stoops of hundreds of feet in turbulent spring air filled with fair-weather cumulus clouds.  What an enjoyable vision in my mind’s eye.

Now if I could only remember with whom I was having the conversation.

5
Feb

Almost a Front

The la Niña doldrums continue.  We’ve had an almost never ending series of precipitation filled lows head towards the west coast of California this year.  About one out of 8o make to us.  It’s pretty amazing to think about unconstrained fluid dynamics but that’s our draw this season.  We’ve had about one or two bonafide weather fronts this year, and that’s it.  This is a typical scenario:So different than last year.  Dramatic effects rest on slight spatiotemoral variations.

Which roll into models that show this:

29
Jan

Pin Point Accuracy from Blurry Vision

In a recent study, Takashi Nagata et al, Science 1/27/2012 demonstrate that a jumping spider, H. adansoni uses chromatic aberration to help determine distance from prey.  Prey typically being a small insect of some sort.  Their compound eye retina is layered with red and green layers being a different depths.  The spider approximates and compares the sharpness of the red image with that of green to determine the distance.  The cool thing is this is a totally unique and somewhat unexpected way of measuring distance, but it builds on the spider’s biological tools at hand.

All the better to see you with my dear.

Tiny differences in retinal layering depth help to provide pinpoint distance.

29
Jan

A Short Winter or Long Summer

Weather wise this season, winter 2011-2012 has been notable.  A simple series of satellite water vapor images over North America tells the longer tale.  The polar jet stream consistently deflects towards the north pole as it comes into the west coast.  That bump has been with us all winter and shows little sign of flattening or dipping towards the equator.  Cold water off the coast of Peru causes the effect, la Niña.

Our mid winter dry spell

The dominant feature is a high pressure off the coast of California

These images are courtesy of NOAA and Unisys weather.

The jet stream marks the characteristic up level winds flowing from west to east at the top of the troposphere.  They primarily the result of Coriolis effects experienced  by warm air moving polewards from the equator.  Heating causes the equatorial air to ascend as it density changes.  Rising results in cooling, and cloud formation.  The equatorial air both sinks and moves poleward.

Heavy cold air at the poles flows towards the equator displacing the lighter warm air.  Somewhere between the predominantly warm regions, and predominantly cold regions of the Earth, the cooling but moist equatorial air and warming but cool polar air meet.  With the warm moist higher equatorial air moving from west to east and the cold to cool polar air moving towards the equator but with an east to west flow, small mixing cells, low pressure areas emerge. Both opposing longitudinal flows are caused by Coriolis effects but in the opposite directions.

Air mass mixing with upward displacements causes the storms and precipitation we all depend upon.

The area circled in green is the atmospheric cell of interest that's driving our dry spell.

11
Jan

Sunny with a Chance of Clouds and Accidental Precipitation

Warm, wet air going poleward, in red, intersects cold dry polar air going equatorial. The red lines indicate the tropical flows and the blue colder polar air. At approximately the same vertical elevation, the two air masses meet to form the polar jet stream. In this picture, highlighted in green are two low pressure systems. One's over the Pacific and the other over the eastern United States. One's adrift as a cut-off low. The other is plugged in to the Polar Jet Stream. This pattern has been typical of our winter so far, so we're having a California drought. The images are courtesy of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) by way of Unisys Weather

Making sense of chaos and our anomalously wonderful weather, I hope.  In my annotated photo from the “super-pacifically” centered geostationary orbiting earth station west (GOES west), one gets a bird’s eye view of the dynamic Earth atmosphere.  From this image you can see the relative atmospheric flux in play on an hourly basis.  The dark areas on the earth’s surface represent clear air with little condensed water vapor, think the steamy hot tropics.

The hazy areas have more water vapor present, and the shading of the haze to white, the air temperature drops and the water drops get bigger, and these are clouds of condensing water vapor called clouds.

Speaking very generally, heat and gravity drive the atmospheric flow warm wet air is created over the warm tropical seas making a lighter mixture of air and steam that floats upward being displaced by cooler air (generally from the poles, which receive less overall warming sunlight.  The rising equatorially heated air moves towards the poles, and as it does it cools to form tiny water droplets and clouds.

Combination of warm (typically moist air), cold (typically dry air) and gravity accounts for the atmospheric flow we feel as wind.

Warm, moist air is always lighter than cool dry air.

Since the air in motion has both a surface and vertical direction and mixes, and water changes state from gas to liquid to solid depending upon its temperature and pressure, it exists in various states as it transits the atmosphere.

By studying the pictures and and better yet the movies, it’s possible to get a feel for the dynamics of the earth’s atmosphere.  As we oscillate from coherent to discordant and back.

5
Dec

Climate Change Is Kinda Smoking and Cancer

A new piece of evidence put another nail in the coffin of climate deniers.  For a long time it has been hard to reconcile theory and evidence.  Richard Muller’s group at Berkeley final completed a gargantuan study of historic temperature measurements around the earth and reconstructed the actual earth surface temperature rise over the past 200 years, and basically found that, in spite of best intended scientific skepticism that, his millions of data points mirrored the results reported by less exact methods.

The less exact methods involved a whole series of what are called temperature proxies like tree growth rings, carbonate deposition, and isotopes of oxygen.  They also involved some compensating factors which smoothed over data gaps and jumps (not truly acceptable first hand evidence, but circumstantial).  A bit like like hearsay.

The hockey stick of temperature change is happening. In spite of Dr. Muller’s best efforts and support by the Koch Brothers, his illustrious group of scientists essentially verified what others had suspected and inferred.   The temperature has gone up; their temperature graph is the same as everybody else’s graph. Because the change is gradual and earth climate system so noisy it hard to directly infer human cause carbon dioxide  associated with temperature rise, but they are strongly correlated.  So that’s the last two hundred years.

Well, another outlier of a data point has been the onset of glaciation about 33.7 million years ago.  Evidence from that period initially indicated that carbon dioxide went up as the poles froze over.  That’s a hard lump for carbon dioxide based climate changers to accept, a wrench in the theory.  It gave me pause––maybe there’s lots more to climate than a little carbon dioxide (in truth, there is, which is why it’s so damn noisy).

Well this past year, some enthused paleoclimatologists found counter evidence.  Apparently new research indicates  that the atmospheric carbon dioxide level plummeted as the earth poles froze over.  The devil is in the detail.  So it’s another fitting piece in the climate puzzle.

Now to my way of thinking, the evidence both theoretical and physical is lining up fairly well.

Taken and adapted from Science Magazine, 2 December 2011, Mark Pagani et al. The Role of Carbon Dioxide During the Onset of Antarctic Glaciation.

The whole episode reminds me of the dawn of the cigarette smoking and great cancer debate.  The teams are kind of like the tobacco companies pitted against the public health advocates.  Growing up in the 50s and 60s, public doubt, the misinformation sown by the tobacco companies was profound.  The evidence had been solid from the late 1940’s, but it took a good many years to get the information out.  And it was all statistical and predictively hypothetical.  I mean, what about all the people that smoked that didn’t get cancer? That was a noisy relationship too.  In fact, two close friends of mine perished from the effects of smoking most likely, judging by the circumstantial statistical evidence.

With notable exceptions, the smokers were the primary victims of the disinformation campaign.

Well so here we are a 70 years later and an analogous disinformation campaign is underway.  This time with a broader constituency of vested interests from coal companies to developers and everyone with sea side real estate, but it’s not going to be the just perpetrators that are going experience the effects.  There aren’t actually any non-perpetators.  We’re all in in it.  We’re all going to experience the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide increases most likely.

Admittedly, the earth’s climatic system is noisy and subject to many many factors.  The “great signal averager” in the sky is in fact the poles and the total amount of ice on the earth.  Sea level provides the most accurate indicator of the watery state of the earth.  While the atmosphere wildly gyrates between extremes, that’s not where the heat is stored, it’s in the water, just like one finds value in land, to turn an old adage.  And the water level is rising, slowly accelerating as the earth warms.

It’s hard to tell the exact timing of of the increasing sea heights but the climatic wheels are turning and the earth’s ice cubes melting. And we are all beneficiaries or victims of the rising tide.

3
Oct

10 O’clock High and 4 O’clock Low

A graph of our positive (PA) and negative (NA) attitudes over the course of a day as determined by analyzing tweets.

Twitter, the online social service records the tweets of tweeters around the world.  Such tweets, provide a global statistical insight into Twitter  users, who are by enlarge somewhat similar to the non-tweeters, so I would infer, being a tweeter on occasion myself and not really able to fully discern non-tweeters. Read more »