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Archive for the ‘cheers’ Category

north atlantic right whale mother and calf / NOAADetect. Transmit. Analyze. Notify. Avoid.

Sounds like a pretty straightforward way to keep ships from plowing into whales. It’s just in the knick of time then, as collisions are an all-too-frequent occurrence along the busy Atlantic seaboard.

The Boston Globe has the story of the new system, just installed in Massachusetts Bay. Here’s the project website itself, complete with maps of the action, plus multimedia so you don’t have to do any pesky reading.

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Atheist firebrand PZ Myers, aka Pharyngula, has a hilarious evening to tell you about.

(hat tip: Ginny)

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Every once in a while the New York Times runs an article just to see how many jokes it can slip under the radar; today is just such a day.

How else do you explain the most revered newspaper in America dedicating valuable paper (ca. $1,200 a column inch, if I’m not mistaken) to news about the punctuation on a city train? Siccing their reporters on the likes of Louis Menand and the woman who wrote “Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” (never mind Menand’s arch New Yorker review of ES&L, which was far more haughty than a mere pan; here, they agree)? Digging up a Kurt Vonnegut quote that includes both Hemingway and his second-most despised punctuation mark? Someone even drew out the perfect quote from Noam Chomsky, giving Bush detractors and Chomsky haters alike something to laugh about.

And the coup de grace – was this the brilliant late addition of an overworked copyeditor? – bringing a mass murderer into the story; it’s just a setup for a groaner at the end of the sentence.

One of the school system’s most notorious graduates, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam serial killer who taunted police and the press with rambling handwritten notes, was, as the columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote, the only murderer he ever encountered who could wield a semicolon just as well as a revolver. (Mr. Berkowitz, by the way, is now serving an even longer sentence.)

(Thanks: C.A.H.)

(Image: semicolon subway commuters; Scribble Images)

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The Penguin Is Out of the Bag

penguin.jpg A momentous and long-awaited e-mail arrived on Friday:

I am in receipt of your TRW, and passport information forms.

The RPSC Medical data base shows that you are physically qualified.

I’m not sure what my TRW is or how anyone came to be in receipt of it. But the rest of the message is all good news. “Physically qualified” is the official way of saying that I’ve been judged a safe bet not to drop dead or nearly dead anytime in the next several months, and that therefore I will be allowed to spend the holidays in Antarctica.

Antarctica! Ah, finally it becomes clear (to anyone I haven’t leaked this to yet) why I’ve been piling it on so thick with the Worst Journey. I’m going to Antarctica as part of Woods Hole’s Polar Discovery team to write about penguins and lava.

All told, the trip is 5 weeks, from just before Thanksgiving to just after Christmas. At least three of those weeks will be spent in tents, 30 or more miles from the nearest electric heater. If all goes well, we’ll have Christmas dinner in a tent on Cape Crozier, the point of rock where Cherry, Wilson, and Bowers waited out that horrible blizzard that ripped the roof off their igloo.

In coming weeks, keep an eye on the website for more details of our expedition. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.

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Here’s to good old Al Gore for winning (or sharing, to be exact) the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Scribbler admits to having laughed off Gore’s chances just the day before the prize was announced. I mean, he’s done an incredible job of getting this issue onto people’s radar screens, and finally there’s a slight intimation that we, as a planet, may actually start taking some baby steps to reduce the rate at which our emissions are increasing.

But peace? It’s a fair argument that staving off climate change will avert wars over resources (and, let’s face it, over plain dry land). But it’s a stretch to say that talking about doing something about staving off climate change qualifies as work for peace. On the other hand, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin got their Peace Prize for shaking hands – and then Palestine imploded six years later.

Another angle, perhaps, is that there’s not a whole lot of peace breaking out in the world right now.

Ridiculed as he may be by the right-wingers, Gore deserves some respect. Outside of an unfortunate period of focus-grouping in mid-2000, he has spent his energy promoting a cause he actually thinks is important – a refreshing tactic for a politician. He survived the indignity of losing an election by getting more votes than his opponent, went home to think, and returned with an honest conviction to talk incoveniently.

That’s not grandstanding, it’s not opportunism, and it’s not political maneuvering. It’s leadership. Remember that?

Previously on s.b.s: The Al Gore Union

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krill.jpg Thanks to the loyal Scribble readership (those half-dozen or so of you who aren’t just here for the cute baby pictures) for bearing with me over the last couple of weeks. Even the laziest of us have to work for a living every now and then, the Scribbler has discovered. It’s one of the chief downsides of being a professional.

Anyway, I just survived a prolonged trip to the East Coast, where I was hammered by a deluge of scientific information that felt like a shipload of iron had been dumped on my head. Wednesday in particular was so bad that I couldn’t even scratch out a “Worst Wednesdays” for you.

Thank goodness for Christy Reed. She emerged from a roughly 7-month period of hibernation and book-writing to give me something quick to post about: an amateur rap video about towing a plankton net behind a research vessel. Modeled after Vanilla Ice’s sole hit, “Ice Ice Baby.”

That right there should be all you need to know in order to stay the hell away. But the surprise is that it’s funny and educational, kinda (ever wonder what MOCNESS stands for? or get your sharks and whales confused?). Even the amateur and presumably caucasian rappers carry through with flow and a bit of style. Check it out.

(It’s perhaps not quite up to the gold standard, Weird Al’s White ‘n’ Nerdy – but then how do you top Al? The guy’s a professional.)

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cellphone1.jpg Israeli mathematicians are taking math to where the kids are – their cell phones. The Institute for Alternative Education at the University of Haifa has unveiled downloadable graphing tools for cell phones.

You can fiddle with coefficients and watch what happens to the associated parabolas and hyperbolas; you can work on your graphical problem solving. The geo-curious can “experiment” with quadrilaterals; budding empiricists can fit curves to data; and calculescent students can work out derivatives and integrals.

All free for the downloading to your java-enabled phone. The site knows for a fact the modules work on a variety of Sony Ericsson and Nokia models and claim it ought to work on others.

As far as the Scribbler is concerned, this seems like a nifty idea (though tragically uncool, and I think that’s probably all that counts). At any rate, I fear I may be slipping down the wrong side of the technology gap to make much use of the software. You can play with the demo version on the Web site, but doing so just made my thumbs anxious.

Nevertheless, you’ve got to admire the places the good Israelis see this going:

A car is moving at a speed of 20 meters per second when the driver sees a ball rolling on the road. The driver’s reaction time is one second (reaction time is the time that passes between identifying the ball and pressing the brakes.) During that time the car continues at its constant speed. After the driver presses the brakes, the car decelerates for 7 seconds until it stops.

  • Describe in a graph the distance the car traveled during from the time the driver saw the ball until the car stopped.
  • What does the lower graph describe in this story?
  • How would your graph change in each of the following situations: (1) the driver drove faster; (2) the driver was drunk; (3) it was a rainy day.

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bluemarble.jpg Cheers to New Scientist for their set of interrelated stories addressing myths and misconceptions about climate change science. They start by acknowledging how hard it is to keep straight the complex actions, interactions and feedbacks that shape Earth’s climate, even without some “other side of the debate” throwing up roadblocks.

Contorted evidence and factoids can at times arrive in flurries, making them difficult to refute: the sun’s output is changing; cosmic rays are to blame; we can solve it by fertilizing the ocean; etc.

So New Scientist compiled a list of 26 of the most commonly heard objections, then assigned reporters to each one and produced short, specific refutations. A few of my favorites: We Can’t Do Anything About Climate Change; Mars and Pluto Are Warming Too; It’s Too Cold Where I Live – Warming Will Be Great; and even It’s All a Conspiracy.

The pieces are short, but that’s a bonus. If you’ve got time on your hands, you can read exquisitely detailed discussions, buttressed by long-term data sets, on any one of these topics at places like RealClimate.org. But those discussions run to the thousands of words – and dozens of graph traces – before you even get to the comments section.

What New Scientist has done is distill what’s wrong with each of these 26 common misconceptions, then collect them all in a single place. Put it in your back pocket this summer, for when you head off to neighborhood barbecues and the like.

Image: NASA. Thanks to the Tracker for his post.

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A great photo and some charming natural history on milk frogs in a new blog called Cantos. Returning to field research in Costa Rica after a year’s absence, the blogger finds frogs have invaded her shower, sink, toilet and water pipes. The last location is a favored spot for male frogs to show off their own pipes.

The researchers are from Cornell University, whose Library of Natural Sounds has armed  them with some formidable recording equipment. They’re supposed to be studying some complicated duets sung by wrens that skulk around in the tropical underbrush. But wrens sing in the morning, and I’m hoping that leaves the evenings free to point the microphones at the bathroom. I, for one, would love to hear a drainpipe-amplified milk frog in all its digital mp3 glory.

As you can see here, the photography is very nice also (visit the site for the full version). Felicidades a E-Bo!

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chillout.jpg Amid Outside magazine’s monthly regulars: a gear carnival, a death-defying mountain assault, a top-30 list of adventure tours, here’s an amusing story about trees doing modern art.

I guess if Thai elephants have recorded a CD and sea lions sell frameable artwork, it only made sense to get another biological kingdom involved. A performance artist from San Francisco tied pencils onto cypresses at a Georgia tree farm, positioned some heavy sketch paper scant millimeters away, then stood back and let the art happen.

It’s all written engagingly and with a blessed lassitude not often seen in such ClifBar-fueled magazines. Author Eric Hansen sounds like he’s taking calm, deep breaths as he writes, and not once does he kayak upside-down off a Class V waterfall or plummet through a treacherous Himalayan cornice.

Instead, he wanders amid the cypresses as they sketch. He admires artist Jonathon Keats’s bowtie if not his short-shorts (check Keats out on Wikipedia for a synopsis of other quirky projects, like strategically planting flowers to dictate the way honeybees dance).

Hansen does credit to the enterprise by taking the trees’ creations seriously, attempting to put into words the aesthetics portrayed in the – well, if chickenscratch isn’t quite the word, it’s close. And after a bit of reflection, he ends with some quiet advice that you can almost hear sighing on the north-Georgia breeze:

If modern art is the ultimate expression of its creator’s take on the human condition, then these artists’ message is clear: You guys think too much. Chill out and scribble awhile.

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