stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
There is a lineage of salamanders characterized by the following.
1) They're all female.
2) To produce offspring, each female must mate with (male) salamanders of three different species and incorporate some of each male's genes into their eggs.

Here's the scoop.

Haldane scores again.
stoutfellow: Joker (Default)
Okay, this is just amazing: boxer crabs.

Haldane was right.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Still plowing my way through Lyell. The last section was a discussion of the origin of the energy involved in earthquakes and volcanoes. Lyell presents, and then dismisses, the idea that the interior of the planet is molten, and the heat works its way up from below. (His objection is that temperature ought to equalize throughout the planet, given enough time. I'm not sure what the answer to that is. I have a textbook on physical geology around here somewhere, which I should maybe read after finishing with Lyell.) He seems a bit more receptive to chemical or electrical origins, especially given the then-new discoveries about the relation between magnetism and charges in motion.

The section I'm reading now is on the biosphere; Lyell here tentatively accepts Lamarckian evolution, although he doesn't believe in monogenesis - plants are clearly, he thinks, a separate creation from animals, for example. Evidently this edition predated his acquaintance with Darwin's work. Should be interesting to see what lines of inquiry he follows in this area.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Here is a neat article from Centauri Dreams about the atmosphere of Io. The atmosphere is composed of sulfur dioxide, spewed out by the nine or so volcanoes on the moon. But when Io passes into Jupiter's shadow - which happens once every Io-day - its temperature drops below the freezing point for SO2, and the atmosphere collapses; it resublimes when the moon moves back into the sunlight.

"The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine," as J. B. S. Haldane put it.

Connections

Aug. 7th, 2016 08:21 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
In the section of Lyell that I'm currently reading, he goes into much detail concerning the effects of volcanic eruptions, starting with Vesuvius and Etna, proceeding to Iceland and Chile, and ending with the great Tambora eruption in 1815. (He's restricted, somewhat, by the need to have details recorded by observers of a scientific bent.) He does not, however, mention the meteorological consequences of that last - the legendary Year Without a Summer, when harvests all across the Northern Hemisphere failed because of the reduction in sunlight induced by the debris of the eruption. I can see two possible explanations.

1) He wasn't interested in the meteorology; his concern was establishing that known geological phenomena, given enough time, could account for all the changes in the geological record, without recourse to global catastrophes.

2) He didn't make the connection between the two. After all, it's not obvious that a volcanic eruption in the East Indies could cause crop failures in Europe.

The question that occurs to me, then, is this: when did someone make the connection? I have a vague memory that modern meteorology, with its fronts and jet streams and whatnot, didn't arise until the early twentieth century, but would that knowledge have been necessary? (There was a book I read forty-some years ago, a treasury of snippets of scientific history; it included some stuff about the life of Louis Agassiz, about the emergence of the Paricutin volcano, and, if I remember correctly, about the introduction of the idea of fronts. I don't remember the title or the editor; the book vanished from my hands long ago. I wish I still had it, for nostalgia's sake if no other.)

By Jingo!

Jul. 23rd, 2016 04:13 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Terry Pratchett's novel Jingo involves the appearance of the island of Leshp midway between Ankh-Morpork and Klatch, which triggers a war over sovereignty between the two powers. After Sam Vimes arrests the two armies for disturbing the peace, the war is aborted by the re-submergence of the island.

Lyell's Principles of Geology mentions a volcano called Graham Island, which appeared above sea level in 1831 and led to severe diplomatic tensions between the UK, Sicily, and France. The dispute was still ongoing when the island was eroded below sea level again early in 1832. Apparently it has poked its head above water several times through the years, the 1831 incident being the most recent.

Aha! Wikipedia says that Graham Island was, indeed, the inspiration for Leshp. Learn something every day....
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology is the other major nonfiction work I'm currently reading. In some ways, it's a window into the past; the main point of the book is to stake out and defend a position in a controversy that has been long since resolved. One of the prevailing theories of geology in Lyell's day was catastrophism, holding that the Earth had alternated between long periods of geological quiescence and brief periods of immense upheaval, in which the shape of the continents changed radically and life was virtually extinguished, to be followed by a new creation of life. Lyell argued for the uniformitarian position, that the data could be equally well explained by the assumption that the geological processes at any time in Earth's history were the same, in quality and intensity, as those now perceived; all that was needed for radical upheaval was the passage of sufficient time.

One of Lyell's biggest headaches had to do with the changing patterns of life found in the fossil record. He was at times reduced to pointing out that the record was fragmentary enough that we couldn't be sure that, e.g., there were no mammals in the Carboniferous. Darwin's work on evolution must have come as a great relief to him; he and Darwin were friends and intellectual allies, and he was an early proponent of the Darwinian position.

The only large-scale geological processes Lyell could point to were uplift and subsidence (and you can see the same ideas in, e.g., The Voyage of the Beagle); these were the source of such proposals as the existence of a lost continent of Lemuria in the Indian Ocean, to account for the presence of lemurs in Madagascar and India but nowhere in between. (Many other land bridge proposals were in vogue in the following century or so.) Plate tectonics, of course, does a much better job of explaining such things.

Uniformitarianism carried the day, eventually. It's interesting the ways that modern theory diverges from it, though. First, in the Hadean Eon, the geological processes were definitely not those of the present; it's not even clear that plate tectonics had started yet. More broadly, the study of the Great Extinctions bears a passing resemblance to catastrophism, with its continental-scale volcanic eruptions and the occasional asteroid. (Of course, the catastrophe causing the current Great Extinction is not geological in origin....)

It's an interesting read; Kindle says I'm only about 19% of the way in. I'll be interested in his discussion of the appearance of humanity, which even he had to admit was a recent phenomenon.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
In The Surface Gravity Plateau, Centauri Dreams offers some interesting computations on the surface gravity of planets. It seems that surface gravity as a function of mass has a surprising interval of rough constancy in its graph. (The article also gives reasonable approximations to its graph outside the interval of constancy. I'll have to remember those formulas.)

Om nom nom

May. 3rd, 2016 08:07 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
This presents a wonderful little discovery about gorillas and food. Just neat.

(H/t to [personal profile] rfmcdpei.)

Miscellany

Apr. 24th, 2016 01:26 pm
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
1. I haven't been posting much lately, I see; it's the tail end of the semester, and things have been busy. (I've been on several committees which have chewed up a good deal of time as well.) Next week - the beginning of May - is finals week. After that I'm free for the summer. (Well, "free" in the sense that I won't be teaching, but I've still got a lot to do. The taxonomy papers are continuing to reshape themselves.)

2. For last week's dinners, I made a batch of Cajun-style pork ribs. A b-i-i-i-g batch; I've already had today's dinner, and there's still one more helping left. So, no real cooking this week; I'll pick up a few frozen dinners when I need them.

3. In addition to After London, which I mentioned before, I'm currently reading William Morris' The House of the Wolfings. It's sent in the Germanic lands at about the time of their first collision with the Romans, and has only a light touch of fantasy - unless you count his romanticized view of Germanic life as fantasy! It's interesting to compare the two books. Both describe similar societies, though one is post-apocalyptic and the other pre-modern. Jefferies' narrator recognizes that things are worse than they were, where Morris' feels that things will be worse than they are....

4. On a more nonfictional note, I'm also reading Fustel de Coulanges "La Cité Antique", which was, I think, one of the first major works of cultural history, showing how different aspects of Greek and Roman history developed, step by step, from the domestic religion, with its lares and penates. Fascinating stuff, although I'm sure later researchers have poked a hole or two in it. Also on the nonfictional front, I've started reading Charles Lyell's classic Principles of Geology. I've just barely begun it, and it's very long, so I can't offer any comments on it yet.

5. The department is undergoing a program review over the next year, and I need to update my vita for it. I don't recall this being necessary in earlier reviews, and I don't think I've updated my vita since I was hired. Ugh.

I have lots to do, and no energy to do it with. Two more weeks....
stoutfellow: (Winter)
Clayton Kershaw, ace pitcher for the EBE - three-time Cy Young winner, 2014 MVP, five-time All-Star - is the great-nephew of Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the ex-planet Pluto.

Small world (pun only semi-intentional).
stoutfellow: (Winter)
This is a very interesting discussion of the interaction of Tibetan Lamaist Buddhism with modern science, at the hands of the Tibetan government in exile. Very curious indeed.

(H/t to [personal profile] rfmcdpei.)
stoutfellow: My summer look (Summer)
Oliver Sacks has died.

If you haven't yet read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, do so. Now.

Then look for something else he wrote. I don't care what. Repeat as necessary.

:raises glass:
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
One of the odder documents I've downloaded from Project Gutenberg is the first volume of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, for the years 1665-66. I can't say I understand everything - a lot of the items use long-obsolete technical terms - but still, it's interesting.

Among the topics I've read about:

  • A dispute between M. Adrien Auzout and Robert Hooke on the art of lensmaking for telescopes
  • A review of a book by Thomas Hobbes denouncing mathematicians, and an evisceration of Hobbes by John Wallis
  • A description of a device for improving ventilation in mines
  • Evidence that Mars and Jupiter rotate on their axes
  • The care and feeding of silkworms
  • A questionnaire, to be sent to farmers throughout England, asking about various agricultural matters
  • Several bizarre theories of the tides, in those days before the Theory of Gravitation
  • The differences in whaling near Bermuda and in the New England area
  • Refrigeration techniques
  • How to kill rattlesnakes
  • Two theories concerning the sources of the Nile
  • Barometers and other weather instruments
  • A couple of autopsies


A lot of it is nonsense; a lot of it shows people creeping towards modern science; and a lot of it is simply entertaining. I may look to see if further volumes are available.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
I'm reading Darwin's paper on earthworms. At one point Darwin describes the worms' habit of plugging the mouths of their burrows with leaves. Sometimes, he writes, they use pine needles - the type that come in pairs, joined at the base.
As the sharply pointed leaves diverge a little, and as several leaves are drawn into the same burrow, each tuft forms a perfect chevaux de frise.
Not being familiar with that last phrase, I looked it up online; Wikipedia provides a helpful picture. They are precisely the sort of barricade used by fortresses in Skyrim.

Darwin and video games. How 'bout that?
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Here's an interesting article on a remarkable case of convergent evolution.
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
So the big astronomical news is that in about four billion years the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy will collide and merge into a single elliptical galaxy. There's been some mention of Andromeda's satellite, M33, which will also get swallowed up (and may collide with the Milky Way first). Here is a good reference, with an animation.

But nobody seems to mention the Milky Way's satellites: the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds, plus eight or so less famous dwarf galaxies. What happens to them? Anybody know?
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
The surface area of a dog's tongue is inversely proportional to its licking frequency.

(This refers to the frequency of licks within a licking event, not the frequency of licking events themselves.)
stoutfellow: Joker (Joker)
Emily Lakdawalla has an interesting article up about some of the moons of Saturn, including some remarkable photos of Hyperion (which resembles a sponge) and Atlas (which is saucer-shaped). Take a look.

1977

Feb. 15th, 2011 11:34 am
stoutfellow: (Winter)
In the course of my ongoing library project, I recently subcatalogued The Next Eighty Years, which is the proceedings of a futurology conference held at Caltech in 1977. One of the articles, I noticed, was "The Possibility and Consequences of Climatic Change", by Stephen Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Curious, I dipped into the article. I didn't do more than skim, but found some interesting snippets, which I've put under the cut.

History Lesson )

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