Category Archives: Science!

Tree Lobsters On Ball’s Pyramid

 No, it’s not a Roger Dean album cover.  It is a real place right here on Earth.  Ball’s Pyramid rises like a wizard’s hat out of the Pacific Ocean 12 miles off the coast of Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and probably warrants a post all to itself.  But the remarkableness of this remarkable piece of rock isn’t the most remarkable thing about it.  This is:

That is a pair of Dryococelus australis, aka the Lord Howe Stick Insect, aka the “Tree Lobster,” aka the world’s rarest insect.  It was believed to have been  extinct since the 1930s.  But in 2001, two Australian scientists scaled sheer face of the tiny island on a hunch that perhaps a few of the insects were hiding out there.  On their first excursion, they found an encouraging sign– bug poop.  They returned at night to find about 30 of the handsome critters gathered around a single plant.

I recommend reading the entire story of the expedition at Robert Kurlwich’s NPR science blog.

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Live Science has a nice gallery of deep sea creepies, including the sea cucumber pictured above.  It’s called the Halloween Holothurian, but I call it Destroyer of Worlds.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s a face not even a mother could love.

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The Museum Of Life

My mom tipped me off to this really nice BBC series about the Natural History Museum in London and how it functions as not only a repository of artifacts, but as an active research facility.  I have to say the star of the show is the building itself.  Built in 1881, its impressive facade and exhibition halls only tell part of the story.  Many of the museums real treasures are housed in the labyrinthine halls, corridors, and basements, which are not open to the public.  The series gives a decent look at what goes on behind the scenes in the building and in the field.  If you enjoy visiting natural history museums, this series is pretty hard to beat.

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Marcin Jakubowski: Open sourced blueprints for civilization

From TED:

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that’s only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).

Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing a set of blueprints for 50 farming tools that can be built cheaply from scratch. Call it a “civilization starter kit.”

I don’t know if it’s specifically a product of the recession or if it’s a periodic generational thing, but I find it very encouraging to see more and more young college-educated people going into these very idealistic endeavors such as sustainable farming at exactly a time when small family owned farms are being put out of business left and right by large corporate owned farms.

I contrast this “be the change you want to see” kind of idealism with the cynicism of my own generation and it makes us Gen X’ers seem like a bunch of pessimistic blowhards. While I do think that the spirit of DIY was very much a part of Generation X, that spirit always seemed to be aimed at criticism and destruction rather than optimism and construction. We had the bad luck of being born at the ass end of a previous age of optimism, idealism and great social change, but the party of the 1960’s was over and Gen X was the hangover.

Recently though, it does seem like there has been another sea-change in the general mood of the entire world. People are angry, certainly, and things are bad, yes, but there is also this feeling that the tiny individual can actually change the world for the better. This is the feeling that was almost completely absent during the formative years for many people from my generation X and I am glad to see it here once more. Whether it be the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement, or these young college-educated people buying small farms, I am really glad to see a return of the idea that the individual can make a difference.

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Filed under Counterculture, Design, Politics, Science!

Something From Nothing ? A Discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss

It is definitely worth your time this weekend to sit down with this discussion. Two of my favorite thinkers hold a two-hour discussion on the really big topics of life and the universe, as well as thoughts on the ever-expanding frontiers of those two hefty subjects.

Join critically-acclaimed author and evolutionary biologist Richard
Dawkins and world-renowned theoretical physicist and author Lawrence
Krauss as they discuss biology, cosmology, religion, and a host of other

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Filed under Atheism, Nature, Science!, Uncategorized

Meet The Micro-meleon

Whachoo lookinat? The newly discovered Nanosaurus Rex

Via Live Science— Scientists announced the latest contender for the title of World’s Smallest Vertebrate (competition includes the world’s smallest frog and the world’s smallest angler fish) in the shape of this micro-mini dinosaur.  Pictured on the match head above is a juvenile Brookesia Micra, one of four new species discovered on a tiny island off the coast of Madagascar.  The adults reach a staggering half an inch in length.


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What is up with Noises? (The Science and Mathematics of Sound, Frequency, and Pitch)

I like this person’s youtube posts quite a bit. She explains very complex mathematics and physics in a way that can hold the attention of even a thirteen year old… And that’s difficult to do.

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Are You Fracking Kidding Me?

What’s not to love about fracking?  It makes your tap water flammable, causes earthquakes, and inspires great art.  It’s also really fun to say.  Unfortunately, a lot of people find the side effects of drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to be annoying.  Can you believe there are people out there who don’t think it’s totally rad to have a kitchen sink that doubles as a flamethrower?

You may recall that after the fuel shortage crisis in the ’70s, the U.S. set forth on an unprecedented effort to escape the death grip of foreign oil.  The clean energy sector, heavily subsidized by the government, stepped up to the plate, providing literally billions of gallons of sunshine and trillions of barrels of wind.  In fact, the wind and solar farms that sprouted across the country did so much good for the environment, that something had to be done to reverse the effect.  If the wind and solar farms were allowed to proliferate further, there would be no contaminated water and no smog to mutate future generations.

Many critics contend British Petroleum's recent efforts to curb rampant environmental purity didn't go far enough.

Thankfully, a few small, brave oil companies struck out on their own, without any governmental assistance, and made great strides against Big Enviro.  And now, thanks to the Obama administration’s recent decision to embrace fracking, the fight against the Naturazis can continue.  This is good news.  Not only does it mean we can get more natural gas at a time when inventories are at record highs and prices are at record lows, but we can finally begin getting those precious chemicals into pristine aquifers and wells.  Finally, states like Ohio can experience the excitement of being just like California.  It’s like the disaster ride at Universal Studios, except it’s real.  And who wouldn’t want to live on the edge like that?

The Obama administration has flipped and flopped on Big Enviro issues like a mackerel trying to shake off its fresh coat of oil so generously supplied by BP.  The Big Enviro supporters who swept Obama into office are, of course, in a tizzy over his willingness to frack the land while the well-reasoned Drill Baby Drillers have been stymied by Obama’s refusal to grant unfettered access to the hell on earth that is ANWR.

And just today, the Obama administration has formally nixed the marvelous Keystone XL pipeline that would have been like a super duper  Slip-n-Slide from the vacation paradise of the Tar Sands in Canadaland to Nederland, Texas, home to wooden cowboy boots and Baconator Broodjes.  This is a huge disappointment, especially after getting fracked so good just a minute ago.  Obama is like that guy you pick up at the bar who talks a good game and does actually blow your mind in bed when you get him home.  But then he takes off while you’re fast asleep and you discover not only did he give you a fake phone number, but he left a turd the size of a Louisville Slugger in your toilet.  But given the choice between that and the taste Santorum leaves in my mouth, I suppose I’ll take getting fracked by Obama.

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Filed under Humor, Nature, News, Politics, Science!

Of Mice And Men – The Least Among Us Versus The Greater Good

Few things in the current political debate ruffle my feathers like the GOP’s insistence that fewer government regulations would be better for business and the economy.  The argument always ends with the demolition of the EPA and Department of Education.  But this story from today’s “Morning Edition” on NPR illustrates exactly how non-black and white the issue of government regulation can be.

Basically, there are new guidelines coming from the National Institute of Health that would require all laboratories to provide more space for lab mice and rats to breed or else their funding will be cut.  This means the laboratories would have to spend lots of money upgrading mouse houses.  At a time when funding for science is hard to come by at best and blocked by flat-earthers at worst, one has to wonder whether this is the kind of regulation that does anybody any good.

Let me start by saying that I’m an animal lover.  I’m all for animal rights.  I have had pet rats and I have had big pet snakes to whom I have fed rats.  When I was in high school, I worked at a fantastic pet store and I saw on a daily basis what rodents are capable of.  They are cute and, no doubt, very smart.  They are also capable of cannibalism.  Many a morning, I arrived at the store to find scenes of horror in one or more of the rodent cages.  And if one of them gave birth overnight, the odds were pretty good the babies would be eaten.  Then again, when the babies did make it, there were often sold as reptile food.  So choose your outrage.

But at what point does the question of animal rights serve less as something beneficial to the animals involved than as soothing salve to the anthropomorphizing PETArds?  Who is better served if laboratories across the country have to stop what they’re doing and spend lots of time and money retrofitting animal enclosures?  What is the big picture benefit to seeing to these rodents getting a bigger bedroom before they are sent off to have ears grown on their backs?

Science has used and abused the lowly lab mouse to the extraordinary benefit of humans for decades.  All the medicine you’ve taken in the last year was likely tested on rodents long before it ended up in your body.  Any chance we have of curing cancer will likely come from trial and error using rats and mice first.  We as a species should be grateful for their unwitting participation.  They should be treated as well as possible.  But there comes a point where the greater good must be considered.  And this animal lover thinks the greater good is served when the money is spent on scientists doing science, not a government-mandated Extreme Home Makeover: Lab Rat Edition.


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