Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Why, yes, I have a Ukrainian wife, why do you ask?

A bit more seriously, the most magical moment of Xmas 2007 didn't happen in the morning. It was wonderful this morning when Avrora rushed out after waking up to the tree. Her excitement this morning was great.

The real treat though was that at 3 AM, she woke up. She was hungry - I think she's going through another growth spurt - and wandered out of the bedroom to the livingroom where we have the tree set up. Lyuda woke me up and sent me after her: no need for my daughter to start ripping into presents then! I found her standing there in the living room, eyes as big as saucers as she stared at the Xmas tree with its blinking lights and the gifts underneath. I asked her if she new Det Marose (Santa par russki w/ a bad transliteration) had been there. She nodded. I asked her if she liked the presents. She nodded. I told her it was probably a good idea to go back to bed because DM would take back the presents if she didn't. She was a little alarmed at this (hey! I only had an hour's sleep at that point! I needed to move things along), but insisted that she was hungry. I went and fetched some salami - her favorite snack - from the refrigerator and had her sit on my lap on the couch as the Christmas tree lights danced in front of us. No words were said, but her eyes never narrowed. She distractedly munched the meat and snuggled for a second. Then we went back to bed. Her only objection was that she didn't see any small presents: they all looked big! She wanted a small present so she could unwrap it herself. I reassured her and she climbed into bed with Mommy and Daddy with a shriek of delight and snuggled up to Lyuda as happy and delighted as only an innocent, Santa expecting child can.

Those ten minutes out on the couch, even though they were very sleep deprived, were something magical. I was touched in a way by my daughter's happy innocence at that moment that will be with me the rest of my life. If I had received de nada else, I would happily declared that I had made out the bandit in the Baird household and my daughter and wife like paupers even if they had each received all the money in the world. It was truly a wondrous gift. And I am humbled by its receipt.


From: Papa Baird (aka local Santa stand in)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some Long Overdue Avrora Pix

My daughter and wife remain gorgeous. I on the other hand look like a maniacal mad boy scientist at best.

Friday, December 21, 2007

US Demographics

For the first time in 35 years, the U.S. fertility rate has climbed high enough to sustain a stable population, solidifying the nation's unique status among industrialized countries.

The overall fertility rate increased 2 percent between 2005 and 2006, nudging the average number of babies being born to each woman to 2.1, according to the latest federal statistics. That marks the first time since 1971 that the rate has reached a crucial benchmark of population growth: the ability of each generation to replace itself.


The fertility rate finally surpassed the replacement threshold again in 2006, according to a preliminary analysis of birth data released by the government this month. When the report was published, attention focused on a jump in the teen birthrate for the first time in 14 years, but the statistics show that was part of an increase in birthrates across almost all ages.

"The teenagers may have had some impact, but the birthrate went up for every group, including women in their 20s, and they account for a huge percentage of the childbearing in this country," Ventura said.


Some of the increase is explained by immigration. Hispanics have the highest fertility rate -- about 2.9 -- followed by blacks (2.1), Asians (1.9) and whites (1.86). But Hispanics do not represent enough of the population to fully explain the trend, and the fertility rate of U.S. whites is still higher than that of other developed countries.

"It's hard to say any one factor is responsible. It's frustrating when you can't put your finger on what's going on," Ventura said.

We're a little weird. We like kids. Well, pre and post Boomers do.

Kidding aside, this bares out with the anecdotal information that I have been hearing for a while. There's a baby boom of sorts taking place with the Gen X & youngers. Lyuda and I have only had our daughter so far, but we plan on a couple more. I know of several others from young people that this is true too. They want more than 2. In some cases significantly more.

Demography Matters recently did a post on US demography. Careful, the online genocidal type lurks there. However, one of the interesting things is that China and Russia are going to face a nasty demographic splat that will screw up their economies in the next ten or so years. Brazil, of all places, might too. DM is an interesting site and I am not so sure I always agree with them, but its worth reading now and again.

Nanosolar News

Nanosolar is a silicon valley company that is out to make solar panels for cheap: the goal is $1/watt. They have begun shipping their product. Once they get the volume up, they will be able to meet their goal for price per watt. They are supposed to be very well financed, even backed by Google. They have a company blog and are in the news quite a bit.

Fear not, there's competition nipping at Nanosolar's heels.

GreenTech might be getting ready to do a big time boom in the Bay. Boy the Bay needs it too. ;)

Latest New Hampshire Poll


Hillary Rodham Clinton, 32 percent

Barack Obama, 32 percent

John Edwards, 18 percent

Bill Richardson, 8 percent



Mitt Romney, 34 percent

John McCain, 27 percent

Rudy Giuliani, 11 percent

Mike Huckabee, 9 percent

Ron Paul, 9 percent

Fred Thompson, 4 percent

Well, Noel, it looks like your stumping - and others - in NH seems to have paid off. Now if we can get Hunter, Thompson, and Teh 3v1L to drop out on the Repugnant side and Richardson from the 'Brat side. Richardson did a very good thing for me when I was 17: he nominated me for the US Naval Academy and West Point. I didn't get in due to my eyes being atrociously near sighted. Even so, I am grateful that he did that and it has helped me in my career. However, his actions as Secretary of DOE with respect to my hometown, the Lab, and especially to a friend's father have made me not a friend of him or his political aspirations.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bubble! Bubble! Toil and Trouble!

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is emitted in great quantities as bubbles from seeps on the ocean floor near Santa Barbara. About half of these bubbles dissolve into the ocean, but the fate of this dissolved methane remains uncertain. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have discovered that only one percent of this dissolved methane escapes into the air -- good news for the Earth's atmosphere.

Coal Oil Point (COP), one of the world's largest and best studied seep regions, is located along the northern margin of the Santa Barbara Channel. Thousands of seep fields exist in the ocean bottom around the world, according to David Valentine, associate professor of Earth Science at UC Santa Barbara. Valentine along with other members of UCSB's seeps group studied the plume of methane bubbles that flows from the seeps at COP.

Their results will soon be published as the cover story in Volume 34 of Geophysical Research Letters. This research effort is the first time that the gas that dissolves and moves away from COP, the plume, has been studied.

The amount of methane release from COP seeps is around two million cubic feet per day, according to Valentine. About 100 barrels of oil oozes out of this area as well. Methane warms the Earth 23 times more than carbon dioxide when averaged over a century. Thus the fate of the methane bubbles from the seeps is an important environmental question.

"We found that the ocean has an amazing capacity to take up methane that is released into it -- even when it is released into shallow water," said Valentine. "Huge amounts of gas are coming up here, creating a giant gas plume. Until now, no one had measured the gas that dissolves and moves away, the plume."

Valentine hypothesized that the methane is oxidized by microbial activity in the ocean, thus relieving the ocean of the methane "burden."

There must be an equilibrium point for this. How fast can microbes ingest the methane? I think they were merely speculating on that last about the methane burden. Methane hydrate burps have been tied to two different mass extinctions (the Permian where it helped cook life and the Eocene where it did ditto, but less extravagantly). A massive methane burp NOW would be disastrous.

C4 Plants from Fluctuating CO2 Levels?

How a changing climate can affect ecosystems is an important and timely question, especially considering the recent global rise in greenhouse gases. Now, in an article published online on December 20th in the journal Current Biology, evolutionary biologists provide strong evidence that changes in global carbon dioxide levels probably had an important influence on the emergence of a specific group of plants, termed C4 grasses, which includes major cereal crops, plants used for biofuels, and species that represent important components of grasslands across the world.

C4 plants are specially equipped to combat an energetically costly process, known as photorespiration, that can occur under conditions of high temperature, drought, high salinity, and—ith relevance to these latest findings—low carbon dioxide levels. Although a combination of any of these factors might have provided the impetus behind the evolution of the various C4 lineages, it had been widely speculated that a drop in global carbon dioxide levels, occurring approximately 30 million years ago during the Oligocene period, may have been the major driving force. Establishing the link between the two, however, has proven difficult partly because there are no known fossils of C4 plants from this period. Enter Pascal-Antoine Christin and colleagues from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, who decided to take an alternative approach to date a large group of grasses. By using a “molecular clock” technique, the authors were able to determine that the Chloridoideae subfamily of grasses emerged approximately 30 million years ago, right around the time global carbon dioxide levels were dropping. Furthermore, a model of the evolution of these grasses suggests that this correlation is not a trivial coincidence and instead reflects a causal relationship.

As the authors noted in their study, many of the C4 grasses evolved after the drop in global carbon dioxide levels 30 million years ago. How to explain this" The authors speculate that while an atmosphere low in carbon dioxide established the basic conditions necessary for C4 evolution, other ecological factors might be at work. In light of this, the authors hope to apply the same approaches used in the paper described here to investigate the role of other variables, such as drought, salinity, and flooding, in the evolution of C4 plants. In addition to improving our understanding of how climate changes influenced ecosystems in the past, such studies may allow predictions of how human activities could affect the planet in the future. Indeed, with regard to global carbon dioxide levels, Christin and colleagues write, “Besides its influence on climatic variables, increased CO2 concentration could trigger important ecological changes in major terrestrial ecosystems by affecting the distribution of C4-dominated biomes and the affiliated flora and fauna.” This implies that a reversal of the conditions that favored C4 plants could potentially lead to their demise—a startling prospect if one considers the human race’s reliance on C4 crops like corn, sugarcane, sorghum, and millets.

That's rather interesting since scientists claim to have found sauropod coprolites containing phytoliths, which are supposedly only from grass.

Take One Down...

Tancredo is going to bail.


UPDATE: Then he endorses Romney.

Nuclear Power for Everyone!

Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.

The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons. The Lithium-6 reservoirs are connected to a vertical tube that fits into the reactor core. The whole whole process is self sustaining and can last for up to 40 years, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy.

Toshiba expects to install the first reactor in Japan in 2008 and to begin marketing the new system in Europe and America in 2009.

There are uses for this, but somehow I doubt "a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies" will be one of them. This is definitely an amusing twist on "Power to the People!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Graduated to Teh 3v1L

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul has received a $500 campaign donation from a white supremacist, and the Texas congressman doesn't plan to return it, an aide said Wednesday.

Don Black, of West Palm Beach, recently made the donation, according to campaign filings. He runs a Web site called Stormfront with the motto, "White Pride World Wide." The site welcomes postings to the "Stormfront White Nationalist Community."

That answers that.

Active Glacier Found on Mars?

(image source: BBC)
A probable active glacier has been identified for the first time on Mars.

The icy feature has been spotted in images from the European Space Agency's (Esa) Mars Express spacecraft.

Ancient glaciers, many millions of years old, have been seen before on the Red Planet, but this one may only be several thousand years old.

The young glacier appears in the Deuteronilus Mensae region between Mars' rugged southern highlands and the flat northern lowlands.

"If it was an image of Earth, I would say 'glacier' right away," Dr Gerhard Neukum, chief scientist on the spacecraft's High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) told BBC News.

"We have not yet been able to see the spectral signature of water. But we will fly over it in the coming months and take measurements. On the glacial ridges we can see white tips, which can only be freshly exposed ice."


Time Magazine: Putin Man of the Year


Putin: I Will Accept PMship

Vladimir Putin assured his political party Monday that Russia's age of Putin is far from over, pledging to accept an offer of the prime minister's post when he leaves the presidency next year.


The Russian president has pledged to accept a job that is, at least on paper, a demotion — perhaps confident of the power conferred by his enormous popularity and by the loyalty of the fellow KGB veterans he placed in many of the Kremlin's most important jobs.

Putin, 55, presented his decision in a speech to leaders of the United Russia party, shortly before they voted to nominate the president's longtime protege, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, (mehd-VEH'-dyev) as their candidate in the March 2 presidential contest.

With the support of Putin and the Kremlin's tight control over the nation's media and political landscape, Medvedev appears certain to win.


I do believe that this is merely a play, an act upon a stage. I ahve to wonder what Russians really think about all this. Then again...Я задумываться: "Что же медведя думает о Дракон"?

(hopefully that's not too badly translated)

PETM Started as Mild Warming, Went Overboard

(image credit: National Geographic)
What started out as a moderate global warm-up about 55 million years ago triggered a massive injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that sent temperatures skyrocketing, a new study says.

The finding suggests that today's temperature rise may just be priming the planet for a carbon belch of epic proportions.


Sluijs and his colleagues found evidence for the chain reaction in two sections of sediment that accumulated on an ocean floor in what is now New Jersey.

The abundance and distribution of marine algae indicate the environment started to change and the ocean surface began to warm several thousand years before the large temperature spike.

The finding implies that the earlier warming triggered the injection of greenhouse gases visible in the geological record around 55 million years ago.


Scientists have long studied the ancient temperature spike, called the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum or PETM, for clues to what could happen as a result of today's global warming.

Research shows that during the PETM, global temperature shot up at least 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius), and swamp forests with redwoods and broad-leaved trees filled the Arctic.


One theory is that the meltdown of methane hydrates—icelike deposits that store massive amounts of potent greenhouse gases in the seafloor—was responsible.

According to the new study, pre-warming triggered the melt, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Less clear is the nature of that pre-warming, study author Sluijs said.

One possibility, he pointed out, is a bout of volcanic activity that ripped Greenland from Europe, a theory proposed earlier this year in the journal Science.

A couple things to keep in mind: The PETM was significantly warmer than now at the start of the postulated methane hydrate release. With the spike it did do, it didn't cause more than a 'minor' mass extinction. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't a near life destroying threat that is now played up about glboal warming. Don't get me wrong, there will probably be extinctions from our bout of GW, but it won't be the end of the world nor will stopping it 'save the planet.' (related past post: Some bits on the Eocene Ocean & PETM Extinction)

Oh, it'll suck, to be sure, to be in Central Asia, the American SW, New Orleans, or the Mediterranean...or Australia...or Africa. However, my point is, that life will survive and so long as we are mitigate this we can do just fine. Gonna be pretty bad for China too though. What are they going to do when the Gobi or Ordos reaches Beijing?

(image credit: Maps of China, Ditu 地图)

Then again, they might have other problems.

Amanda Can Start Calming Down Now

Huckabee's down to 28% in Iowa almost tied with Romney (27%). McCain's bouncing (14%).

In South Carolina, Romney and Huckabee are tied at 33%,

In New Hampshire, McCain is within a few points of Romney.

This whole process is up in the air and the big 'surge' for Huckabee was only because he was relatively unsullied to date (because he wasn't a leader, now he's getting dirty) and falling from his momentary state of grace.

I am pretty sure that a Repugnant, ahem, Republican isn't going to get elected President no matter what. I am sure that its going to be one form of Demobrat or another. Unless, of course, Congress continues to carnally know Le Pooch.

The Reiser Trial: Can't Help Myself

I have to admit, I have been following the Hans Reiser trial. As a sysadmin/programmer involved with file systems, albeit multisystem FSes, with a xSoviet wife it struck me as spooky as all get out. I have been following the trial through SF Gate's live blogging of the event. I won't call it a pleasure, but there's a little bit of guilt for my morbid curiosity, truthfully.

Reiser, if anyone knew about him before this post, was a very, very, very undersocialized as a kid, overly bright guy. Most of the actions that they've brought up, so far, in the trial as circumstantial evidence of his guilt can easily be interpreted as his too damned smart and under empathetic nerd self to the extreme (had roommates like this guy, but milder). It's also entirely consistent with his personality from before: note, I am NOT saying his innocent, but rather the prosecutor's case sucks. However, I'm interpreting this based on my own delving into the computer nerd/geek world[1], so I have my own biases[2]. I think it really matters more what the jury thinks than what I do.

My guess about what's going to happen is that Reiser is going to be found guilty unless the defense makes a very good case. Reiser's just plain unappealing to the extreme and his actions in court can't help but influence the jury as well. He needs to sit down, shut up and let his lawyer do his job. If he keeps sabotaging his lawyer as he has been, he's screwed.

1. I am a card carrying puter geek, truthfully, if a bit more empathetic than some. And clean. And have successfully reproduced once.

2. I think the whole damned thing is frakked up beyond extreme. I am not so sure that I buy what's being presented by either side. Reiser's an ass. His behavior is terrible and inexcusable: this is the mother of his kids and his actions wrt his kids is nuts. However, I am not so sure Nina was the saint that she's being painted as either. Reiser, while really out there makes the claim she ran off with gobs of dinero. That ought to be easy to check based on bank records, spending behavior and accounting. My wife has doubts about both of them! Sturgeon ought to be examined very, very carefully too. This really needs a finer toothed comb than what I've seen so far. oy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Two More Active Moons of Saturn

Saturn's moons Tethys and Dione are flinging great streams of particles into space, according to data from the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini mission to Saturn. The discovery suggests the possibility of some sort of geological activity, perhaps even volcanic, on these icy worlds.

The particles were traced to the two moons because of the dramatic movement of electrically charged gas in the magnetic environs of Saturn. Known as plasma, the gas is composed of negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions, which are atoms with one or more electrons missing. Because they are charged, the electrons and ions can get trapped inside a magnetic field.

Saturn rotates around itself in just 10 hours and 46 minutes. This sweeps the magnetic field and the trapped plasma through space. Just like a child on a fast-spinning merry-go-round, the trapped gas feels a force trying to throw it outwards, away from the centre of rotation.

Soon after Cassini reached Saturn, in June 2004, it revealed that the planet's hurried rotation squashes the plasma into a disc and that great fingers of gas are indeed being thrown out into space from the disc's outer edges. Hotter, more tenuous plasma then rushes in to fill the gaps.

Now, Jim Burch of the Southwest Research Institute, USA, and colleagues have made a careful study of these events using the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS). They have shown that the direction of the ejected electrons points back towards Tethys and Dione. "It establishes Tethys and Dione as important sources of plasma in Saturn's magnetosphere," says Burch.

UUntil this result, among Saturn's inner moons only Enceladus was known to be an active world, with huge geysers spraying gases hundreds of kilometres above the moon's surface. "This new result seems to be a strong indication that there is activity on Tethys and Dione as well," says Andrew Coates from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, and a collaborator on this latest work.

Oceans? Maybe?

Tunguska Smaller than Originally Thought

The stunning amount of forest devastation at Tunguska, a century ago in Siberia, may have been caused by an asteroid only a fraction as large as previously published estimates, Sandia supercomputer simulations suggest.

“The asteroid that caused the extensive damage was much smaller than we had thought,” says Sandia principal investigator Mark Boslough of the impact that occurred June 30, 1908. “That such a small object can do this kind of destruction suggests that smaller asteroids are something to consider. Their smaller size indicates such collisions are not as improbable as we had believed.”

Because smaller asteroids approach Earth statistically more frequently than larger ones, he says, “We should be making more efforts at detecting the smaller ones than we have till now.”

The new simulation — which more closely matches the widely known facts of destruction than earlier models — shows that the center of mass of an asteroid exploding above the ground is transported downward at speeds faster than sound. It takes the form of a high-temperature jet of expanding gas called a fireball.

This causes stronger blast waves and thermal radiation pulses at the surface than would be predicted by an explosion from a point-source at the height where the burst was initiated.

“Our understanding was oversimplified,” says Boslough, “We no longer have to make the same relatively primitive assumptions, because more modern supercomputers allow us to do things with high resolution in 3-D. Everything gets clearer as you look at things with more refined tools.”

Sandia is the lab responsible. I don't see what machine they ran it on. Was it Red Storm? There are some videos on the Sandia press release page.

Ukraine has a New Prime Minister

Ukraine's parliament on Tuesday restored Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister, sealing a political comeback for a leading figure from the former Soviet country's "Orange Revolution" three years ago.

Tymoshenko, who confronted a powerful coalition led by outgoing prime minister Viktor Yanukovich, won 226 votes in the chamber, the exact number required to take office. Her adversaries took no part in the vote.


"Obviously it was a razor-thin victory...It shows how split parliament is and shows how split the coalition itself is," said Ivailo Vesselinov, an analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort.

"This means the government will be fragile. Any legislation and reforms - there will be a number of question marks. (Relations with Russia) won't be as bad as last time. She has moderated her rhetoric a lot."


That's putting it mildly. She was damned near doing an Ann Coulter (Slavic Variant) impression there for a while. Her rhetoric about punishing the eastern regions was pretty wild. Her quest for NATO and EU memberships is definitely on hold with THAT slim of a majority. We shall see if she ushers in anything other than a fractious period in Ukrainian Rada politics. We shall see.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pre Teaser of A Tail Unfolding

Special thanx to Julia for doing some very necessary graphics work that I am simply unable to do (not the above, something else). Illustrator, I am not. However, I am very stoked on the project that I am using her work on. I'm presenting it to the powers that be this week. *crosses fingers*

Friday, December 14, 2007

Another Permian Teaser

The Permian Ecology post is coming along. it's taking more time than I thought and I have less time to write than I thought. However, in the mean time, enjoy your meal.

Genetic Engineering People: A Friday Ramble

There was a discussion, which I am having a devil of a time finding, a while back on Brian's pre scienceblogs Laelaps about genetic engineering and people: that we should not be genengineering ourselves or our descendants because of the nasty possibilities that abuse of this could and probably would take place. Brian and Julia both came down on the side of being antigene-tinkers in a big way. At the time, I argued about genetic issues that my wife's and my own families have for genetically transmitted diseases ought to be wiped if at all possible, but they countered that this wasn't appropriate to do: they want to avoid the ubermensch or Sauron syndrome. At the time, it really bothered me: I respect their opinions, but I completely disagree with them. It would have just gone away, forgotten in the daily ups and downs had not James brought a usenet discussion into his livejournal. Then. I remembered. Then in returned to bother me.

My family tends to long lives at least on my father's side. Since we have arrived on these shores in 1683, the patrilineal line has had at least two centenarians and many that have made it into their late 80s. Last I checked my grandfather was still alive and kicking at his current mid to late 80s despite having been a career soldier, smoked, drank, and eaten all the nasty things that he ought not. He may reach his century. If this is really genetic, then my father and my siblings may reach such an age too. That means my daughter and any other children I have might too. Normally, this is a good thing. However, in other lines, dementia and Alzheimer's runs through them. Now mix a very long life with being a prisoner in your own failing mind. Wonderful, huh?

There are other genetic bits that could be cleaned up as well: horrible near sightedness? Check. problems with glaucoma? yep. Diabetes? oh yeah. etc. If we could tinker and fix those genes, if they are present, though my descendants would not need fear whatever genetic cruft may have been picked up by marrying and having feeling while only being human. For me, it feels like its a responsible act to fix this, not an act of hubris or desiring to create a superhuman. Yet, obviously others feel rather different. I am looking at this with hope and some others are looking at it with fear.

I view genetic engineering in this context as a medical procedure, de nada more. From my point of view, it's an improvement on the quality of life. It doesn't hurt that if this were wildly applied then we could see massive savings in medical expenses. My glasses have cost me with medical insurance $350 a pop and I've had many prescriptions. Yet that would pail compared to what a diabetic has to deal with. Or what a specialist home requires from a senior suffering from dementia.

I sat down and wondered about those fears. One of them is that The Rich will be able to afford fixes and the poor will not. That one is probably not a realistic worry, truthfully. With genome sequencing dropping in price - very soon it will cost around $1,000 per sequence! - and depending on how much the fixes cost, it might be that because of the savings in terms of chronic health issues that get wiped out that everyone will get at least that. The second thought is that people might pursue their own twisted ideals of perfection: supersoldiers, Saurons, ubermensch, or whatnot. Doesn't this happen anyways? People pick their own mates, right? It's another form of selection. Just cruder. Genetic engineering is just more advanced versions of that. Finally, others - not the two science oriented individuals above - have stated that its not our place to play God. *snorks*

I guess the point of this ramble is to try to spark a discussion among my readers - and I KNOW there are more of you than post comments! - about whether or not YOU feel gene tinkering with people is a net bad. I don't think it is, but I'd like to hear what others think. I'll write some possible follow-up comments myself if I get others to get the discussion amongst themselves going.

Here's hoping!

HANG ON! We've Crossed the Tipping Point!

Earth has already crossed a number of climate change "tipping points" at which today's levels of greenhouse gases will cause additional large and rapid changes, a leading climate scientist said yesterday.

But it's not too late to avoid much of the damage by curbing the use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, climatologist James Hansen added during a presentation at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco.

Such fuels are responsible for most of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which are widely believed to be driving global warming.

Today's level of CO2 in the atmophere is enough to cause Arctic sea ice cover and massive ice sheets such as in Greenland to eventually melt away, said Hansen, of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.

Climate zones such as the tropics and temperate regions will continue to shift, and the oceans will become more acidic, endangering much marine life, he added. (Related: "Climate Change Pushing Tropics Farther, Faster" [December 3, 2007].)

"I think in most of these cases, we have already reached the tipping point," Hansen said.

Feel that sensation? The one just before the wild drop on the rollercoaster? Yep. We might just be RIGHT there.


I decided that I really ought to keep putting up a post when I find a blog I like and then link to. I've been following Amanda's Self-designed Student for a bit now and enjoy it. She has Yet Another Paleo Blog (with personal chucked in), but that's what makes blogs interesting. They're not just articles on one topic: they're the writers bully pulpit.

Go take a read. Her POV & articles are worth it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Researchers Certain Europa has Ocean

Republican Iowa Debate


That was the WORST debate I have ever seen. By that I mean how it was run AND the answers.

The only way I found to get it tivoed was to get it through fox. Since most of the debates have been forever and a day longer than they were supposed to be, I set it up for an extra hour past the end time. Interestingly, it ended ontime and I got Fox Oozes commentary. They agreed it was a none too hot debate and felt that Huckabee 'won.' Interestingly, the Iowans they coraled in to watch the whole shabang felt that Romney won. erm.

Just by watching it - or listening to it as I did while working on other things at times - I felt we all lost. The candidates and the voters. Talk about a waste. Tonight I'll be watching the Democrats. Hopefully its better, but I doubt it. I really need to finish that Permian ecology post.

Gliese 581 May Have Inhabitable Planet

More than 10 years after the discovery of the first extrasolar planet, astronomers have now discovered more than 250 of these planets. Until a few years ago, most of the newly discovered exoplanets were Jupiter-mass, probably gaseous, planets. Recently, astronomers have announced the discovery of several planets that are potentially much smaller, with a minimum mass lower than 10 Earth masses: the now so-called super-Earths [1].

In April, a European team announced in Astronomy & Astrophysics the discovery of two new planets orbiting the M star Gliese 581 (a red dwarf), with masses of at least 5 and 8 Earth masses. Given their distance to their parent star, these new planets (now known as Gliese 581c and Gliese 581d) were the first ever possible candidates for habitable planets.

Contrary to Jupiter-like giant planets that are mainly gaseous, terrestrial planets are expected to be extremely diverse: some will be dry and airless, while others will have much more water and gases than the Earth. Only the next generation of telescopes will allow us to tell what these new worlds and their atmospheres are made of and to search for possible indications of life on these planets. However, theoretical investigations are possible today and can be a great help in identifying targets for these future observations.

In this framework, Astronomy & Astrophysics now publishes two theoretical studies of the Gliese 581 planetary system. Two international teams, one led by Franck Selsis [2] and the other by Werner von Bloh [3], investigate the possible habitability of these two super-Earths from two different points of view. To do so, they estimate the boundaries of the habitable zone around Gliese 581, that is, how close and how far from this star liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet.

F. Selsis and his colleagues compute the properties of a planet’s atmosphere at various distances from the star. If the planet is too close to the star, the water reservoir is vaporized, so Earth-like life forms cannot exist. The outer boundary corresponds to the distance where gaseous CO2 is then unable to produce the strong greenhouse effect required to warm a planetary surface above the freezing point of water. The major uncertainty for the precise location of the habitable zone boundaries comes from clouds that cannot currently be modeled in detail. These limitations also occur when one looks at the Sun’s case: climate studies indicate that the inner boundary is located somewhere between 0.7 and 0.9 AU, and the outer limit is between 1.7 and 2.4 AU. Figure 1 illustrates the Sun’s habitable zone boundaries, compared to the case for Gliese 581 as computed both by Selsis and von Bloh.

W. von Bloh and his colleagues study a narrower region of the habitable zone where Earth-like photosynthesis is possible. This photosynthetic biomass production depends on the atmospheric CO2 concentration, as much as on the presence of liquid water on the planet. Using a thermal evolution model for the super-Earths, they have computed the sources of atmospheric CO2 (released through ridges and volcanoes) and its sinks (the consumption of gaseous CO2 by weathering processes). The main aspect of their model is the persistent balance (that exists on Earth) between the sink of CO2 in the atmosphere-ocean system and its release through plate-tectonics. In this model, the ability to sustain a photosynthetic biosphere strongly depends on the age of the planet, because a planet that is too old might not be active anymore, that is, would not release enough gaseous CO2. In this case, the planet would no longer be habitable. To compute the boundaries of the habitable zone as illustrated by Figure 1, von Bloh assumed a CO2 level of 10 bars.

Note, that's an M class star (red dwarf).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Arctic Summer Ice Free in 2013?

An already relentless melting of the Arctic greatly accelerated this summer—a sign that some scientists worry could mean global warming has passed an ominous tipping point.

One scientist even speculated that summer sea ice could be gone in five years.


Just last year two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."

This sounds familiar.

Now, keep in mind he's speculating: he really doesn't know. It's possible, but who knows how likely it is. There's big error bars in our understanding still.

OTOH. If its true. Oh Shibbit with a blink tag.

Putin's Renewed Interest in Belarus

Vladimir Putin could become the leader of a land even larger than Russia — a development that may hinge on talks beginning Thursday in neighboring Belarus.

Putin has unexpectedly revived efforts to create a single state from the two former Soviet republics — a merger that would expand his options for exercising power after he steps down from the Russian presidency next year.

Putin heads to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Thursday for discussions of a framework for the long-debated union, fleshing out an existing agreement that has meant little in practice.

A merger of Russia and Belarus could allow Putin to leave the Russian presidency as promised in May yet still remain a chief of state.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Putin tries to speed up a union with Belarus ... to become the president of the unified state," said Gennady Zyuganov, Russia's Communist Party chief.

Personal suspicion: Putin will find a way to incorporate Belarus directly rather than make a state atop Russia. We shall see. We shall see if anything comes of this. We shall see.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Northrop Wargames a Laser Armed Bomber

Northrop Grumman turned up at an Air Force virtual exercise in late September with a new weapon: the high energy laser (HEL) bomber. Based on a B-2, the notional bomber design combined the stealth bomber's massive internal payload with a HEL that could shoot down incoming double-digit surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), rendering the jet invulnerable to missile attack.

The project leader is Robert Smerke, principal investigator for operations and simulation analysis for the company's Integrated Systems sector. Smerke acknowledges that the key laser technology doesn't exist yet, but says that the study was more than just an exercise in PowerPoint physics.

First, Smerke's team talked to operators - B-2 crews at the 509th Bomb Wing, other bomber crews, special operations teams, fighter pilots and many others - to find out what they could do with a HEL-armed bomber, before they defined the aircraft and weapons used in the simulation.

Also, apart from the HEL, the technology installed on the simulated bomber was off-the-shelf, under development or simply modified: the SDB II Small Diameter Bomb, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) adapted for air launch were among them. The bomber wasn't necessarily a modified B-2, but that technology was used as a baseline.

As for the laser, Smerke says, Northrop Grumman was looking at systems that have a serious chance of working "and don't weigh 7,000 pounds". The crews, he says, "will give up a couple of JDAMs" for a defensive capability Smerke's team modeled with two lasers. The nearer-term liquid-cycle concept provided unlimited shots over the mission, but needed to shut down and dump heat after a certain number of firings; beyond 2020, solid-state technology was assessed to allow continuous fire. Neither used expendable chemical fuel, but drew electrical power from the engines. (Smerke does not mention specifics, but DARPA's laser programs described here, here and here are an indication of where technology might be headed.)

The study does reflect the fact that, if an airborne defensive HEL is ever practical, it will fit on a large bomber before it fits on a fighter. It's also worth remembering that defending a 600 mph target is not like protecting a land target or a ship. It's enough to make the incoming weapon miss by a few dozen yards, in most cases, and (unlike a ship target) the bomber won't be hit by an uncontrolled but intact weapon. Punch a hole in a SAM's radome, and the supersonic airflow through the hole will blow the radome off and the missile will become unstable and miss.

There's another point about lasers, too: they make tactical maneuver irrelevant because they engage at equal speed and effectiveness over the entire field of regard, which is a complete sphere in the case of a flying wing with upper and lower turrets. A B-2 can't pull 9g or perform a vertical scissors. And it does not matter.
Something that they don't talk about is that if the bomber can have the laser, so too can the ground troops. If you can pack an airplane killer in a FCS, there's gonna be trouble for the Blue Beanies big time. It also gets interesting for artillery shells, rockets, and missiles. The ideal would be to have reduced the HEL hardware down such that it could be standard equipment on all 'tanks.' Truthfully, that's probably 20 years away at the current rate of development.

Boeing Installs Advanced Tactical Laser

The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] has installed a high-energy chemical laser aboard a C-130H aircraft, achieving a key milestone for the Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program.

Boeing completed the laser installation Dec. 4 at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. The laser, including its major subsystem, a 12,000-pound integrated laser module, was moved into place aboard the aircraft and aligned with the previously-installed beam control system, which will direct the laser beam to its target.

With the laser installed, Boeing is set to conduct a series of tests leading up to a demonstration in 2008 in which the program will fire the laser in-flight at mission-representative ground targets to demonstrate the military utility of high-energy lasers. The test team will fire the laser through a rotating turret that extends through the aircraft's belly.

"The installation of the high-energy laser shows that the ATL program continues to make tremendous progress toward giving the warfighter a speed-of-light, precision engagement capability that will dramatically reduce collateral damage," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems. "Next year, we will fire the laser at ground targets, demonstrating the military utility of this transformational directed energy weapon."

Laser buzzword bingo aside this is a big step forward, but its also years later than I would have expected. The ATL is still a chemical laser. Chem Zapzaps are NOT what you want on the battlefield: a little damage and your crew gets dry cleaned. At best. If its a DF laser...*shudders* Solid state lasers, which are making excellent, if slow-ish progress are much more desirable on the battlefield. If it breaks, it breaks: it does kill its crew or the surrounding people. Other soldiers, civvies, etc.

Medvedev: Putin to be My Premier

A day after President Vladimir V. Putin endorsed a loyal protégé, Dmitri A. Medvedev, as his successor, Mr. Medvedev went before the nation today and declared that he in turn wanted to name Mr. Putin as his prime minister.

The announcement could bring to a close questions about how Mr. Putin intends to wield influence over Russia after his term ends next year. Mr. Putin is barred by the Constitution from running for a third consecutive term, but he had indicated in recent months that he had no intention of giving up all his power when he steps down in the spring.

Mr. Medvedev has no background in the state security services and virtually no power base in the Kremlin, and he is seen here as a relatively weak figure beholden to Mr. Putin. With Mr. Putin as prime minister, it would appear that little would change in who controls Russia.

Some analysts conjectured that Mr. Medvedev could even step down before his term as president ends — clearing the way for Mr. Putin to be elevated from prime minister to president, which would be possible under the Constitution.

In his speech to the nation today, Mr. Medvedev said that for Russia to continue on the path set by Mr. Putin since he took office in 2000, Mr. Putin need to stay in a position of authority. Mr. Medvedev repeatedly praised what he said were Mr. Putin’s achievements in improving living standards in Russia. Mr. Medvedev also echoed Mr. Putin’s comments in recent months praising Russia’s revival on the world stage.

That settles that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

HAIL! Glacialisaurus hammeri!

A new genus and species of dinosaur from the Early Jurassic has been discovered in Antarctica. The massive plant-eating primitive sauropodomorph is called Glacialisaurus hammeri and lived about 190 million years ago.

The recently published description of the new dinosaur is based on partial foot, leg and ankle bones found on Mt. Kirkpatrick near the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica at an elevation of more than 13,000 feet.

“The fossils were painstakingly removed from the ice and rock using jackhammers, rock saws and chisels under extremely difficult conditions over the course of two field seasons,” said Nathan Smith, a graduate student at The Field Museum. “They are important because they help to establish that primitive sauropodomorph dinosaurs were more broadly distributed than previously thought, and that they coexisted with their cousins, the true sauropods.”

The findings were published online Dec. 5 in the Acta Palaeontologica Poloncica (see http://www.app.pan.pl/). Diego Pol, a paleontologist at the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Chubut, Argentina, is the other co-author of the research.

Zach, note, paper link above.

Greenland Melt Anomalies 2007 Edition

Putin: Medvedev to be Next Russian President

Russian President Vladimir Putin backed his long-time ally Dmitry Medvedev to succeed him on Monday, preparing the way for Putin to exercise power from behind the scenes after he leaves the presidency next year.

Medvedev, a 42-year-old first deputy prime minister and chairman of gas giant Gazprom, is seen by markets as business-friendly and less hawkish than his Kremlin peers, but analysts said Putin would be the real power in the land.

Putin's choice brings an end to years of speculation and puts Medvedev in pole position to win a March 2 presidential election because most Russian voters say they are prepared to back whoever the popular Putin endorses.

The Russian president, required by the constitution to step down after serving two consecutive terms, issued the endorsement at a meeting with four party leaders who backed Medvedev.

"I have known him very closely for more than 17 years and I completely and fully support this proposal," Putin was shown saying on state-run television.

"We have a chance to form a robust administration for the Russian Federation after the March elections...an administration that will carry out the same policies that have brought us results for the past eight years."

Medvedev is a trained lawyer from Putin's hometown of St Petersburg. The two men worked together in the city administration in the 1990s. Putin brought Medvedev to Moscow as a key lieutenant shortly before he became president.

Medvedev is softly-spoken and sometimes stiff in front of television cameras. He has adopted many of the mannerisms of his mentor: he uses the same clipped diction and, like Putin, often wears polo shirts under his suit jacket.

It looks as though Putin has selected his puppet. Will Putin now become Prime Minister as has been suggested?

Friday, December 07, 2007

H2S Treaments: First Steps to a Zombie Apocolypse?

Only kidding above, but below they are very serious about what H2S can do:

Hydrogen sulfide, or H2S, the chemical that gives rotten eggs their sulfurous stench — and the same compound that researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center successfully have used to put mice into a state of reversible metabolic hibernation — has now been shown to significantly increase life span and heat tolerance in the nematode worm, or C. elegans.

These findings by Mark Roth, Ph.D., a member of the Center's Basic Sciences Division, and Dana Miller, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in Roth's lab, appear in the PNAS Online Early Edition, a publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

In an effort to understand the mechanisms by which hydrogen sulfide induces hibernation in mice, the researchers turned to the tiny nematode, a workhorse of laboratory science because its biology is similar in many respects that of humans. For example, like humans, nematodes have a central nervous system and the ability to reproduce. The worms also are ideally suited for studying life span, because they normally live for only two to three weeks.

The researchers found, to their surprise, that nematodes that were raised in a carefully controlled atmosphere with low concentrations of H2S (50 parts per million in room air) did not hibernate. Instead, their metabolism and reproductive activity remained normal, their life span increased and they became more tolerant to heat than untreated worms.

The H2S-exposed worms lived eight times longer than untreated worms when moved from normal room air (22 C or 70 F) to a high-temperature environment (35 degrees Celsius, or 95 F). Roth and colleagues replicated these results in 15 independent experiments.

"Although the maximum extension of survival time varied between experiments, the effect was quite robust. On average, 77 percent of the worms exposed to H2S outlived the untreated worms," Roth said. The mean life span of worms grown in an atmosphere laced with hydrogen sulfide was 9.6 days greater than that of the untreated population, a longevity increase of 70 percent.

Resident Evil or longevity treatments? Do we really want Baby Boomers to live 70% longer? That might be a distopia in and of itself! Imagine: 2075 and we'd still be hearing about how GREAT (with blink tag) the 1960s/Woodstock/Summer of Love were. And around 2100 we'd finally have a Gen X President.

Dystopia! Dystopia! Thy name is the Curse of the Undying Boomers!


Japan to Develop the ShinShin (stealth fighter)

Tired of waiting for the United States Congress to embrace the idea of selling the F-22 fighter overseas, Japan announced plans to develop its own.

The key part of the six-year project, to be officially launched next April, involves developing an XF5-1 engine that would allow a fighter jet to be both highly maneuverable and cruise at supersonic speeds.

"We need fighters that are fitted with highly advanced technology, considering what's been developed in other countries," the ministry said in a recent statement. "It is a crucial project in developing fighters that will play a key role in our future fleet and build our space defense."

Japan's air force has been searching for replacements for its aging fleet of F-4s and F-15s. But its hopes to purchase F-22s from Washington have been hindered by a U.S. Congress export ban and its reluctance to share sensitive military technology with foreign governments.

Defense officials hope to have a test flight of the prototype, unofficially nicknamed "Shinshin," or spirit, by the end of March 2014. The entire project is expected to cost 46.6 billion yen (US$419.8 million; €285.2 million).

Threat's over. They're going to do it. Too bad for the US that we will be unable to make some money off the F-22. Ah well.

Funny Cartoon

Russia: We Need Nuclear Parity

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, tipped by some analysts as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin, said on Friday Russia must achieve nuclear arms parity with the United States.

"Military potential, to say nothing of nuclear potential, must be at the proper level if we want ... to just stay independent," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Ivanov as saying.

"The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted, and when we have parity they will talk to us in a different way."

Ivanov was speaking to veterans and members of Russia's military-industrial commission, which he heads and which is marking its 50th anniversary.


I wonder what the contrast would be if they were, well, not so insulted at being ignored. In My Personal Experience, Russians seem to get very offended if you simply lose contact with them if they were at one point very close friends or important in some fashion at some time. They often feel that they should remain the center of attention even if circumstances have changed. People drift apart. Circumstances change. Nations rise and fall.

Russia is not the parity power of the US and hasn't been for well over a decade (then in its Soviet phase). While for a time, it seemed Russia was going to be our ally, even then Russia was not in a position to influence events, so why consult? To them, that's an insult. Big time.

On another blog, Jussi Jalonnen, a Finnish individual that I have communicated with for quite some time first over SHWI in usenet and later in blogs and email, stated about some Eastern Europeans he has dealt with, "when dealing with them, what _they_ believe is obviously more important than my own questionable views of reality." He meant it in a very different context, but I do believe that it holds true here too.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Via Email

The Office of Science of the Department of Energy has asked the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) for the Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research (OASCR) to assess the strategic priorities of the OASCR program [charge letter], focusing on the balance between the “core” research efforts and high performance computing facilities, and on the balance between more immediate research needs of current scientific applications and the long-term investments necessary to effectively utilize the high performance systems of the future. The ASCAC has formed a subcommittee to examine this issue. As part of that process the subcommittee is soliciting comments from the community, and the Krell Institute has agreed to provide this website to host those comments.

While 99.x% of you are not in the HPC arena, those that are should go make comments. The rest of you ought to take a look at some of the documents because it gives you some ideas about what's going on in HPC for the longer term politics.

Mild Frustration

Orangers Making Progress...but at what cost?

The Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense bloc of Viktor Yushchenko (NUNS) and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) have managed to set aside their differences and create a majority coalition in parliament. NUNS accepted Yushchenko’s choice for parliamentary speaker, and dissenters in Our Ukraine (NU), the biggest party in NUNS, agreed to sign a coalition deal with BYuT. The coalition then passed the first serious test for viability, unanimously approving Yushchenko’s choice for speaker, Arseny Yatsenyuk, when the rest of parliament refused to back him.


The PRU and the Communists said they would not recognize Yatsenyuk’s election. They argue that the voting process, which was supposed to be secret, was personally controlled by Tymoshenko and her aides who checked the ballots of BYuT deputies at the voting booth. PRU deputy Yuriy Miroshnychenko said that the PRU might dispute the results of the vote in court. When Yatsenyuk’s election was announced late on December 4, the PRU and the Communists left the assembly hall to protest procedural violations. Tymoshenko did not deny their accusations, but she said that parliament can carry on even without the two parties.

hmmm. Ok. I understand why she did that: it was an attempt to prevent anyone from breaking ranks with what the Wicked Witch of the West had planned for her Block. The problem that plagues Ukrainian politics is corruption. It's entirely possible to bribe Rada members into changing their votes. Or parties. It's happened many times and frustrated the Orangers in round one.

While I understand it, I am concerned about the fact that it breaks the Rada's rules. If you don't like the rules, change them: don't break them. That has a very nasty potentiality. IMNSHO.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Permian Post Teaser/Primer

(nice pict, huh? Wish I was that talented. There are a few issues with the pict, but now's not the time)

The post that I am trying to prepare for this weekend is about the terrestrial Permian ecology just prior to the Great Dying. If I have time, I will do a characterization of the two places we have a good record of vertebrate fossils. I strongly recommend that people go do a quick of the concept of a "faunal stage" though. While its something of an antiquated term, it is useful for describing an time period of a regional ecology.

More later.

Here Come the Tropics Part 2

Some of the earliest unequivocal signs of climate change have been the warming of the air and ocean, thawing of land and melting of ice in the Arctic. But recent studies are showing that the tropics are also changing. Several lines of evidence show that over the past few decades the tropical belt has expanded. This expansion has potentially important implications for subtropical societies and may lead to profound changes in the global climate system. Most importantly, poleward movement of large-scale atmospheric circulation systems, such as jet streams and storm tracks, could result in shifts in precipitation patterns affecting natural ecosystems, agriculture, and water resources. The implications of the expansion for stratospheric circulation and the distribution of ozone in the atmosphere are as yet poorly understood. The observed recent rate of expansion is greater than climate model projections of expansion over the twenty-first century, which suggests that there is still much to be learned about this aspect of global climate change.

This is the abstract of the paper described earlier and a link to it.

Washington Post on Petascale Computing

Sometime next year, developers will boot up the next generation of supercomputers, machines whose vast increases in processing power will accelerate the transformation of the scientific method, experts say.

The first "petascale" supercomputer will be capable of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. That's about twice as powerful as today's dominant model, a basketball-court-size beast known as BlueGene/L at the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that performs a peak of 596 trillion calculations per second.

The computing muscle of the new petascale machines will be akin to that of more than 100,000 desktop computers combined, experts say. A computation that would take a lifetime for a home PC and that can be completed in about five hours on today's supercomputers will be doable in as little as two hours.

"The difficulty in building the machines is tremendous, and the amount of power these machines require is pretty mind-boggling," said Mark Seager, assistant department head for advanced computing technology at Lawrence Livermore. "But the scientific results that we can get out of them are also mind-boggling and worth every penny and every megawatt it takes to build them."

A leading candidate to become the first petascale machine, the "Roadrunner" supercomputer being developed by IBM in partnership with the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory, will require about 4 megawatts of power -- enough to illuminate 10,000 light bulbs, said John Hopson, program director for advanced simulation and computing at Los Alamos in New Mexico.

But scientists say Roadrunner and its cousins will make possible dramatically improved computer simulations. That will help shed new light on subjects such as climate change, geology, new drug development, dark matter and other secrets of the universe, as well as other fields in which direct experimental observation is time-consuming, costly, dangerous or impossible.

In fact, supercomputers and their simulations are becoming so powerful that they essentially have introduced a new step in the time-honored scientific method that moves from theory to hypothesis to experimental confirmation, some experts contend.

HPC often fills the role of experiment on science that is simply too big to experiment on such as climate, orbital mechanics or stellar formation. One of my favorites in this realm that exemplifies it has been the sim of colliding black holes. We simply cannot do the experiment until the far future or we suddenly develop Deity class powers/tech.

Alternately, HPC and simulation in genera, also makes itself useful by verifying equations and theories: do we really understand what's happening when we observe it? Can we accurately describe it in equations? It's entirely possible to think we've come up with a good set of generalized equations for something and only find there's a lot more going on than we thought when we try to apply them elsewhere. Building a simulation makes us confront the realities of all the possible actors in a given experiment.

Another candidate for petascale uber'puters is the Cray XT5, especially the XT5h. We're moving away from the generalized processor machine, finally, and towards ones with the processors for specific applications. Coding for the first generation or two is gonna be frakkin hard, but worthwhile once you get the tools done right.

(:P to the WP cuz they didn't quote any of us tho)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

S. 1936: Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2007

It's in Committee for the Senate now. However there's a big difference in how it is written compared to the House version.

Senate Version for the plebiscite's ballot:
(1) `The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should continue to have its present status and relationship with the United States. If you agree, mark here XXXXXXX.'.

(2) `The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should seek independence from the United States. If you agree, mark here XXXXXXX.'.

(3) `The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should seek nationhood in free association with the United States. If you agree, mark here XXXXXX.'.

(4) `The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico should seek admission as a State of the United States. If you agree, mark here XXXXXX.'.

House Version of the ballot:
(1) Puerto Rico should continue the existing form of territorial status as defined by the Constitution, basic laws, and policies of the United States. If you agree, mark hereXXXX.

(2) Puerto Rico should pursue a path toward a constitutionally viable permanent nonterritorial status. If you agree, mark here XXXXXX.

I do believe that I prefer the House' version, truth be told. It still looks like Pelosi's sitting on it too. *sighs*

My Blog Is Complete

I am content.

Well, the visitors from the countries I wanted to see are as far as I am concerned: I finally got a visitor from Greenland! Woo! ;)

If you're out there, SAY HI!

Latest Iowa Poll

Mitt Romney, 25 percent

Mike Huckabee, 24 percent

Rudy Giuliani, 14 percent

Fred Thompson, 12 percent

Ron Paul, 5 percent

I have to say that I am almost gearing up for a pure Vote Against Campaign aka DESTROY TEH 3V1L. Namely the twits that support R*n P**l. The man's delusional. Dangerously so. However, I haven't adopted a Dalek tone...yet.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Permian Boneyard Teaser

Hopefully, the related post will be up by Friday for the Boneyard. All depends on the events between now and then.

Zach, if you're up for it, I'm looking for some drawings of procolophonids and millerettids for the post. *grovel*

Whither Russia: The Links

I referenced the 'elections' that took place on Sunday (Dec 02 2007) for the legislature in Russia when I talked about Lyuda's shocks over two documentaries we watched this weekend.. It was supposed to be a 'landslide victory' for Putin's United Russia Party. It was not considered terribly clean as far as elections go. That's an understatement actually. The question becomes, what is going to be Russia's future?

There are some thoughts people are bandying about. Edward Hugh et al have some good posts here and here about the probably problems that the Russians are going to have with their economy in the nearish future. Edward likes to link economics to demographics and a quick and dirty source for that is the CIA World Fact Book's entry on Russia, especially the part about demographics (are the Russians going extinct? ]:))

Claus Vistesen over at Alpha Sources wonders about Russian Demographics too.

Once upon a time, I wrote my own War for the Eurasian Soul.


UPDATE: Official results of the election.

Also A Fistful of Euros' post about the failure of democracy in Russia.

Here Come the Tropics!

Earth's tropical belt seems to have expanded a couple hundred miles over the past quarter century, which could mean more arid weather for some already dry subtropical regions, new climate research shows.

Geographically the tropical region is a wide swath around Earth's middle stretching from the Tropic of Cancer, just south of Miami, to the Tropic of Capricorn, which cuts Australia almost in half.

It's about one-quarter of the globe and is generally considered hot, steamy, and damp, but it also has areas of brutal desert.

To meteorologists, however, the tropics region is defined by long-term climate and what's happening in the atmosphere. Recent studies show changes that indicate an expansion of the tropical atmosphere.

The newest study, published Sunday in the new scientific journal Nature Geoscience, shows that by using the weather definition, the tropics are expanding toward Earth's Poles more than predicted. And that means more dry weather is moving to the edges of the tropics in places like the U.S. Southwest.

Independent teams using four different meteorological measurements found that the tropical atmospheric belt has grown by anywhere from 2 to 4.8 degrees latitude since 1979. That translates to a total north and south expansion of 140 to 330 miles (225 to 530 kilometers).

One key determination of the tropical belt is called the Hadley circulation—prevailing rivers of wind that move vertically as well as horizontally, carrying moisture to rainy areas while drying out arid regions on the edges of the tropics. That wind is circulating over a larger area than it was a couple decades ago.

But that's not the only type of change meteorologists have found that shows an expansion of the tropics. They've seen more tropical conditions by measuring the amount of ozone in the atmosphere, the depth of the lower atmosphere, and the level of dryness in the atmosphere at the edges of the tropics.

Climate scientists have long predicted a growing tropical belt toward the end of the 21st century because of global warming.

But what has happened in the past quarter century is larger and more puzzling than initially predicted, said Dian Seidel, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Silver Spring, Maryland. She is the author of the newest study.

"They are big changes," she said. "It's a little puzzling."

She said this expansion may only be temporary, but there's no way of knowing yet.

There's an obvious potential explanation. It will be interesting to see if that is really the one for the expansion of the Tropics.

Two Shocks for My Ukrainian Immigrant Wife

This weekend my wife had two cultural shocks. Both horrified her. Both were absolutely strange to her. One, she said, explained more about some of the people we know that are Baby Boomers (and this was not a good bit of praise either). The other generated as unflattering comments from her, but in the end depressed her and even almost brought her to tears. The reason for these reactions was that we watched two different documentaries. The first was the PBS show "The American Experience" about the Summer of Love. The second was the CNN 'report' entitled "Czar Putin."

The first show "The American Experience" talked about the rise and fall of the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco, California. My wife's reaction to the Boomers and their experiment with the counterculture was negative to the extreme, truthfully. I am not a huge fan of the actions of the previous generation, truth be told, but I also grew up with it at least in the background. My wife did not. In fact, my wife grew up in the Soviet Union, and then after its collapse, the independent country of Ukraine. What she grew up with, what her family went through, and what her culture was were simply fundamentally different. She came away with the thought that the Baby Boomers were just, plain bat-shibbit nuts. She also said that it explained a lot of the actions and politics of those who are my parents' generation from her point of view. Her views are a little harsh, but interesting. She does ahve some good points: how in the world people could believe their "utopia" could even work whatsoever is even beyond me. I guess I am just too much of Gen X to see otherwise.

The second shock for my wife was the CNN report of 'Czar Putin.' It was about Russia under Putin and the then upcoming election (the one this past Sunday). It almost brought my wife to tears. She couldn't understand why Russians were letting Putin do what he's doing to Russia. At the same time, she also questioned whether she would be thinking along those lines if she'd stayed in Ukraine. She was depressed big time by the end and made the comment that she thought Putin had a lot in common with Hitler. The parallels are not that far apart. However, to be fair, the documentary didn't spend enough time talking to Putin's people to try to explain why they thought what they thought. To explain what they thought, CNN's crew turned to the opposition which will, of course, paint it as nasty as can be. Those of you that read this blog KNOW I am not a fan of Putin, but I can also see certain things are being manipulated a bit in the presentation even if the thrust of things happen to be true. The comment from a Putin supporter that was interviewed was something along the lines of "So long as Russia strong and there is money to be made, why should we care about what they do at the top?" Lyuda said, "Every Russian thinks they are a Czar and that's why they want to be led by a Czar, not a President. Americans love stories about people coming from the masses and outdoing those at the top [underdog stories]. That's very not Russian." It's pretty sad. It left my wife pretty depressed for a while. I was able to cheer her up though. No worries.

Right now, Lyuda's feeling a little betwixt and between. She no longer fits in with her Ukrainian friends from back home: she's been Americanized to that much of a degree. Frex, we thought about sending a copy of 'Czar Putin' to our friend in Ukraine that's a party member of the Party of Regions, but decided that he probably wouldn't see it in even close to the same light as Lyuda. However, at the same time Lyuda doesn't feel that she fits in here with Americans as yet and often gets annoyed with us. Her student cohorts are especially nuts as far as she is concerned and what we allow and tolerate amongst us for dissenting points of view baffles her, but she'd rather live amongst those that annoy and be free-er than what she had in Ukraine. Her Americanization is fascinating to watch, but the frustrations it brings are something I wish she could be spared.