Friday, March 31, 2006

Russia, Belarus, and Gazprom

Russia's natural gas behemoth OAO Gazprom said Thursday that Belarus must pay European rates for its gas, putting the two nations on a potential collision course.

Pro-Moscow Belarus now pays a rock-bottom price of roughly $47 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian natural gas. Belarus is the only former Soviet republic that did not get higher rates from Moscow last year.

Oil and gas analyst Oleg Maximov with the Troika Dialog investment bank in Moscow called Gazprom's stance a "bargaining chip" to acquire control over Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz, which also carries Russian gas to lucrative Western markets.

Russia has long been negotiating with Minsk to net a controlling stake in Beltransgaz, which would see Gazprom achieve a goal of cementing control over its transit routes, he said.

"It's a political question, at the end of the day it will be decided between the two presidents at the political level," Maximov said.


The two signed a union treaty in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties but stopped short of creating a single state.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, a pariah in the West for his crackdown on dissent, has rejected a scenario Putin floated in 2002 under which Belarus would essentially be absorbed by Russia. Moscow, for its part, has become increasingly impatient about subsidizing Belarus' ailing, Soviet-style economy.

Read more here.

Is it greed, exasperation, or has Moscow decided its time to eat Belarus?

Extinctions, a review of two books

Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath
by A Hallam and PB Wignall

Catasrophes and Lesser Calamities
by Tony Hallam

Let me start with saying that these books are good. They are both readable works and quite fun for the paleontologist wannabe to follow along. If you are looking for the lower bar, ie easier read, than you are looking for the second book. It is the more recent and slightly more up to date, but not nearly as detailed. The first book is delightfully chalk full of technical jargon and details though.

There is also a nontrivial bias in both books. Hallam is a marine paleontologist. His view of mass extinctions is based from that stance. What may or may not have happened on the land at times is glossed over. While the first book gives lists of what happened to various groups at each of the Big Five mass extinctions, it is uber biased towards marine fossils.

There are good reasons for this in the sense that the marine record is going to be far better than the terrestrial. However, the glossing over of some of it is really annoying. The PT Boundary was a good example, really. The marine is extensively discussed, but the terrestrial is not. Very annoying.

The books do a good job of discussing the events that surround the mass extinctions. This includes the competing theories, observed behavior of the fossil record, some illusions that can happen with respect to said record, and how life rebounds. One of the more interesting things to note is that people tend to focus on the so-called Big Five mass extinctions: The Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Late Triassic and Cretaceous. In the latter book, it was pointed out that these are merely the biggest ones and that they are really just the tail end of a curve as far as the distrubition goes. They are not really that unique except in size which captures the imagination. Especially the PT and KT events.

Hallam is also very much a fan of one of the possible explanations for mass extinction and it shines through some in the coauthored work and very brightly in his solely authored work: that theory is of sea level rise and fall (marine transgressions, anoxia, and regression). The Rise, fall, and anoxia combo makes sense when you consider the point of view of the marine critters. New, very energetic (ie not deep and full of sunlight) areas are opened up. Marine critters love it and explode into them. These environments go away or are drastically reduced (a la the Cretaceous) and we end up with a lot of species competing for drastically reduced resources. If the deep waters are gets worse. However, the question remains about how much this effects the terrestrial ecosystems.

The possible causes that are covered by the two books are pretty few, but the evidence for and against is presented. The ever favourite bollide impacts are one of the possible causes, but interestingly there seems to be only one event that is pretty much confirmed to be directly related (KT Event). The FF extinction during the Devonian /might/ be related, but the Kellwasser is not. The Kellwasser of the Devonian, various Ordovician, and Late Triassic events are all pointing to the sea level and anoxia combo beloved by Hallam. Global Climate change seems to stand up as the winner for the PT Event. The former book gives a nice detailed list of what went extinct for each event. Nicely they also give evidence for and against each theory at each point. Interestingly, vulcanism is indicted for the PT event but through belching CO2 and /warming/ the planet. Surprisingly, vulcanism has had very little impact otherwise. In some other posts I will be talking about each event. However the books do have some other interesting points.

There are some effects that are intersting that ought to be discussed. The first is the Signor-Lipps Effect. This is where the fossil record gives the impression due to the way the fossils are laid down that an extinction event is gradual rather than abrupt or catastrophic.

Another interesting tidbit that I'd heard about that cause interesting problems for identifying extinction events are the Lazarus and Elvis Taxa. The Lazarus taxa are those that seem to die out and go missing from the fossil record for a very long time. They return after they repopulate from a refuge that had a been not giving a good fossil record. Alternately, the Elvis Taxa are the ones that evolve into a form that is very close to the one that died out. They're so named because they're immitating the original form very closely and can cause confusion to the unwary paleontologist: much like all the Elvis impersonators. This is less of a problem for vertebrates than others I would think. There are other classifications as well the obvious extinct ataxa, holdover taxa, progenitor and disaster taxa round out the list.

In addition, there's been some intriguing work that has been touched on here about the survival of the dinosaurs past the KT event. It's logical that some would have lingered on a bit, but there was a bit in Mass Extinctions about teeth from Hell's Creek that were above the KT line (but might have been reworked, actually probably were) and in Catastrophies (the latter book) there was some information out of China about the same possible scenario. In googling there may be some of the same evidence in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. It's an interesting and exciting prospect that throws lots of cold water on theories if true...but most likely these fossils have simply been reworked. We shall see.

The details of the different isotopic analyses are also available. This is in Mass Extinctions. It gives a very good run down about what each isotope that is sought means and why. the isotopes that are looked for are carbon, sulphur, oxygen, strontium, and iridium.

Mass Extinctions covers a lot of smaller events than the Big 5. There numerous others that they go through. They're interesting in that they detail smaller ones and their causes as well. It recaps with the major causes for when the book was written at the end. Catastrophies touches on the 6th Mass Extinction...the one caused by humanity. it pokes some serious holes in things. A favourite quote is...

The sombre picture outlined above should dispel once and for all the romantic idea of the superior ecological wisdom of nonWestern and pre-colonial societies. The notion of the noble savage living in harmony with Nature should be despatched to the realm of mythology where it belongs. Human beings have never lived in harmony with nature.

pg 199. [emphasis added]

They're good books. I believe Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath to be the superior one even though it is older. Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities is a lighter and easier read though. Both are filled with a lot to chew on though! It's heavy material from the point of view of serious thought.

Over the next week (I hope) I'll be posting comments on each of the mass extinctions.

CCSM Paleoclimate Working Group Report 16-17 February 2006

Look here (warning PDF file).

Gene Expression Gets Smacked

I saw a post on Razib's website that greatly upset me:

A letter from the Gene Expression Omnibus arrived in the mail today. Their lawyers claim that use of the term "Gene Expression" for this weblog is "Trademark Infringement." After talking to a friend who is an attorney I've decided to take the site down until I can be clear about my rights and liabilities. I'm assuming that this blog will be up soon, but if it isn't, it was good while it lasted.

I knew this day was coming (but not for Razib) since the guy that had back in the early 90s lost it to the fast food joint. It's sad that Razib is getting swacked too.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dinos on the Chathams

An Australian-based researcher said that he had found the first proof that land-dwelling dinosaurs lived on remote islands in the south Pacific.

Jeffrey Stilwell, a US-born fellow in palaeontology at Melbourne's Monash University, said he discovered the fossilized foot, finger and spinal bones of carnivorous dinosaurs on the Chatham Islands, about 850 kilometers (530 miles) east of New Zealand.

The discovery confirmed that the Chathams were once connected to New Zealand by a finger-like extension, Stilwell told AFP.

"Prior to our discoveries, only a few isolated examples of dinosaur fossils had been found in the northern part of New Zealand," he said.

"Now we've found dinosaur remains almost 1,000 kilometers east out in the middle of the South Pacific," he said, adding that his team had already uncovered more dinosaur fossils in the Chathams than had been unearthed in New Zealand over the past 25 years.

While some dinosaur remains had been found along the Antarctic peninsula and in South America, this was the first such discovery in the southwest Pacific and is possibly unique in the southern hemisphere, he said.

"They were on their own evolutionary path for probably 15 million years since the separation of the Chathams-New Zealand region some 85-80 million years ago," he said.

Read more here.

So we are about to get a small sample of Mesozoic island fauna. Very interesting!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Blast from the Very Far Past

A team of programming pundits from Las Cruces High School took top honors Wednesday in the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The students -- Melissa Preciando[1], Jessica Humphrey and Liz Holland -- spent the academic year developing their simulation, which depicts how temperatures and thermodynamics inside a house are affected by fluctuations in outside temperatures for six hours.

Las Cruces High won a DEC pc486 personal computer and software donated by Digital Equipment Corp., and each of the students received a $1,000 savings bond. The team's teacher is Terry Delzer. Las Cruces also received advice from two technical coaches at New Mexico State University, Prof. Howard Julien and Will Baird.

1. That ought to be Preciado.

Read the ancient press release here.

How I got drafted in to that was rather interesting. It wasn't my intent to be a coach for the team. I was actually looking to try to be a teacher's assistant at LCHS. Melissa and I had been friends prior to this. I just helped guide their ideas through NMSU to get a technical mentor...and then helped a little more...and a little more and then ended up effectively coaching the team by translating what Dr Julien was giving them to what they could work with and teaching them the coding that they needed to use the Crays and CM-200. I ended up involved with the program for the next five years.

FWIW, yes, it's that Melissa. :S

Monday, March 27, 2006

Ukraine's Elections

I have been patiently waiting to see if A Fistful of Euros was going to cover the Ukrainian elections. I have been more than a little preoccupied with other events in life and some of our sources of dried up a bit due to the fact they are just struggling to survive. With Ukraine so actively courting the EU, it would seem to be rather important to the Unioners, but, perhaps not.

That said, what happened? Yuschenko didn't do enough, fast enough. We're actually getting to see democracy in action. Unfortunately, it's just a case of the election coming too soon: it's often true that bad times cannot be simply be put away in a year. Economies are complex creatures and when inheriting something as disfunctional as Ukraine's , there is bound to be a time period of Very Bad Times before it gets better. That said, it doesn't mean that Yushenko necessarily went down and did the right stuff or did more than paper over the mistakes of the past or do more than nominally pursue some of the goals that he stated were oh-so-important.

A good example is the corruption epidemic. It goes beyond a disease in Ukraine. It's so bad that you can't conduct even a small business without it. To so permeates the police, frex, that money is the only truth there and Soviet style, self-deceiving truth seems to be the definite case. Yuschenko promised to stomp it all out. He got off to a greast start. Lyuda at one time worked for the police and she said that a lot of her old friends, as odd as that may seem, quit their jobs and essentially hid because the authorities from on high were coming to clean out every single temple. However, right now, it seems that authorities simply walked through and all those oh-so-squeeky clean friends are back at their jobs, doing the same old, same old...but at higher prices...because there is a risk now of getting caughta nd made an example of. A very small one.

Perhaps if El Presidente Ukraine might have follwoed through there and a few other places things would have gotten better and he'd not have been so humiliated at the polls. It looks like Yanakovich is going to win about 30% - 33% of the Rada. That's 150 seats. It looks like Timoshenko's faction is going to get 24% of the vote. Alas for poor Yuschenko he's going to end up with 16% backing his party. The next biggest group was the socialists and after them came the communists. They were Yuschenko allies and Yanakovich allies respectively.

Interestingly, both Timoshenko and Yanakovich are seeking to court Yuschenko for forming a government. T is being her ole self and unless she holds her fracking tongue might miss the chance to be the Prime Minister again. Y is being very sly and the bastard has figured out Parliamentry politicing PDQ...esp for someone taht tried to steal the election last time. Very interesting and scary.

But what does it mean?

If T+Y happens, then things might remain the same as far as reforms go except T has a overly itchy nationalization twitch that she has just gotta scratch which might mean certain things get taken away, ahem, nationalized. If Y+Y happens, the internal reforms are going to slow down. Considerably. Don't expect any more sales of assets or privatizations until the next election. It's always possible that a government won't be formed and new elections will have to be called. that's a wild card as to the outcome then because it all depends on the spin each side does. personally, I think that Timoshenko and Yanakovich are the winners then, not the president because they can paint his party as the bad guys[1].

However, in either case of the first two cases, the foreign policy of Ukraine isn't going to change much. Ukraine will march slowly towards the West. At least until the next presidential election. The president appoints the foreign and defense ministers and has complete control of foreign policy. He still needs a budget, to be sure, but he's still not in a horrible position, just a not good one.

As to what happens after this...well...we'll see.

Dawn to be restarted?

NASA Watch says Dawn is to be restarted.

NASA confirms.

Very interesting, but not so stupid.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sea Levels of California...After the Warming

Have to say, this political shake up may not be so bad...if it gets the Cali Assembly at least.

Look here.

My only disappointment with the effort is that it doesn't cover the whole world with topo data. Alas. I wanted to see what it'd do to Ukraine and SE Asia.

A little hint. Add yourself to my reader's map if you read my blog.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Brown Dwarf Found 12.7 ly Away

Astronomers have discovered a "cool" brown dwarf circling a star relatively close to Earth.

Brown dwarfs are neither stars nor planets. They are typically dozens of times more massive than Jupiter, the most massive planet in our solar system, but too small to shine like a star.

The newly discovered brown dwarf orbits a small star located about 12.7 light years from the sun, making it the third closest brown dwarf to Earth yet found.

"This is really very much in our neighborhood of the galaxy," said Laird Close, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson, whose team made the find.

Close added that this is a rare "cool" brown dwarf. It has a temperature of about 1,382ºF (750ºC). Most brown dwarfs are much hotter, he said.

Two other brown dwarfs have been discovered orbiting a star about 11.8 light years away. Of the seven brown dwarfs discovered within 20 light years of the sun, five have companion stars, the researchers say.

Read here.

San Francisco with a 20ft sea rise

Link to the original article.

The question remains as to how fast the waters will rise. It's interesting. Many of the researchers are saying a temperature increase by 2100 and yet the briefing we got here a few years ago based on the modeling done using our machines made it seem that the temperature rise of 5 C would take place within the next twenty to thirty years rather than 100 years. I wonder if the new modeling has supplanted what we were briefed about or if this is a case of differing researchers having differing opinions.

Now if only the SF Chronicle would do the whole bay area...

Emeryville - where we live - would be 2 ft above waterline then...and the apartments we live in would be under water for sure. Well, not ours since we're on the top floor, but...

New Chinese Tank - M-1 killer

More recently it has been revealed that China is developing a new MBT, which is understood to be armed with a 152 mm gun fed by an automatic loader. The weapon would be coupled to an advanced day/thermal sighting system that will allow moving targets to be engaged with a high first-round hit probability while the vehicle is stationary or moving.

At least one source has indicated that Russia has supplied some of the technology for the new Chinese MBT project, in order to earn valuable foreign currency to fund some of its own tank development programmes. This is understood to apply mainly to the main armament and the diesel power pack.

From Jane's.

Now let's see if it's any more real than the semi mythical Russian T-95. I'd be delighted if either were true from a techno military geek PoV. From an American PoV I might be a little alarmed.

It seems that the Chinese are not embracing the same idea that the US is that light forces will rule them all through tech. Now, the Chinese have been - historically - slower to adapt to tech trends and take longer in their development times than the US (oy!), but it's entirely possible that they are rejecting the idea outright. Which, in and of itself, is very interesting. Either that portends that either the Chinese have no need to fight anything where they won't have a logistical base that's very strong (the US Army's strategy up to date), or that they think that the Medium Brigade idea that the US Army is following is a mistake and that Heavy Forces will always munch the lights if they are on the same tech level. They might also be taking away lessons from watching the Iraq confrontation as well that are different than the US is.

We shall see which it is.

Lessons on Extinctions

I'm compiling a list of quotes and notes to organize into a long review of Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath and Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities : The Causes of Mass Extinctions. Tony Hallam was a coatuhor on the former and the sole author on the latter so they are actually very good to review together. You can see rather big differences in the style and some of the opinions based on the fact that there are two people writing the first book (with differing opinions) and they were published at different junctures.

While reading them and compiling last night a semi-Nicollian quote came to mind:

If you are going to take the time to invade another country, burn their villages, desecrate their temples, and vandalize their idols, one should take care to scout their territory first. A thorough understanding of the lay of the land is especially necessary when making war upon the feral, unwashed horde nation of geologists.
This came to mind after reading some of the astronomers forays into paleontology, mass extinctions, and bollide impacts. It made me cringe a bit since the mistakes made were often very obvious ones to someone that would have done at least a literature preview. Hallam wrote an especially snarky comment about it which is what prompted the 'quote' to pop into mind.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Baby Pictures

A neck full of air sacks

Scientists say they have found the fossil of a new species of ungainly dinosaur that had special air sacs in some of its bones to help support its massively long neck.

Living more than 100 million years ago in what is now Mongolia (map), the dinosaur belonged to a group of gentle, plant-munching giants called sauropods, the biggest animals ever to have walked the Earth.

Experts say what's most impressive about the dinosaur isn't its huge bulk but its 24-foot-long (7.5-meter-long) neck.

Paleontologists Daniel T. Ksepka and Mark A. Norell of the American Museum of Natural History in New York discovered the fossil in Mongolia's Gobi desert in 2002.

The partial fossil skeleton includes a single neck vertebra that measures nearly 2 feet (0.6 meters) in length.

This is bigger than the same vertebra found in fossils of Diplodocus—another, much larger four-legged sauropod that measured up to 90 feet (27 meters) in length.

The researchers conclude that the smaller dinosaur was oddly proportioned even for a sauropod.

Their analysis of the find is detailed in last week's issue of the museum's journal, Novitates.


Erketu ellisoni's neck bones suggest that an interesting evolutionary strategy allowed the animal to support its long neck, the researchers say.

Computed tomography (CT) scans show that the dinosaur's vertebrae are filled with spaces that probably held small air sacs.

Read from here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

On Babies and Strawberries!

Strawberries seem to ahve come in season. My wife picked up a flat of them at our produce store and brought them home. we gorged ourselves on these huge fruits that were extremely sweet and ripe. Just the way that they are supposed to be and definitely not like how they often are with a mere hint of that strawberry yumminess. To make things even better, they were extremely cheap.

Our daughter wanted to try what mommy and daddy were munching down on. We were a bit hesitant. They can cause allergies, but she's getting to the point it ought to be okay. We figured, oh why not and gave her one. That was a mistake. Not from any physical reaction, but rather for the rest of the day Avrora was completely unhappy unless she had a strawberry in hand. She'd wolf one down - and these puppies are HUGE - and then want another. I think we snapped a picture of her covered in strawberry guts (for tomorrow's picture post, promise). I think she consumed somewhere over eight of them and possibly as high as twelve. She seems to have found her first true food love. She likes cheese a lot, to be sure, especially Gouda, but Monterrey Jack and Mozzerella work for her too (Cheddar doesn't, the little heathen). She also likes pasta as well especially when combined with some sort of daddy rendered tomato sauce (little angel, that 1/8 Italian pokes through).

Avrora's grown a lot. She's over 30 inches now and climbing. She's walking and has quite a few teeth. She has a very small vocabulary that seems to be mostly B words: 'Baby' is her clearest word, but bird, balloon, and others are used as well. She knows a word in Russian: 'da'. She likes to use it when mommy says, 'nyet.' Oy. Did I mention she's a week short of 13 months?

My wife, myself, and my daughter ate ourselves silly with strawberries. However, we still had a lot left over. We decided to either make strawberry jam or to make candied strawberries. Or rather try to make them. It didn't work so well, but the results did taste pretty good.

So, if any of you happen to have a good recipe, we're all ears...

Monday, March 20, 2006

A little bit of NERSC News...of moi

Read it in PDF form here.

Better picture than the group page. ;)

NASA Eyes Alternative to Shuttle Main Engine

NASA is considering dropping the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) from its heavy-lift launch vehicle plans and using the cheaper-to-manufacture RS-68 engine instead.

Daniel Dumbacher, deputy director of the Exploration Launch Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., told reporters following his presentation at the Goddard Memorial Symposium here March 14 that a formal trade study is under way to examine the cost, schedule and performance merits of the SSME and RS-68. At present those two engines are NASA's first choice for the main stage engines that would power the planned heavy-lift cargo launcher NASA intends to build to boost payloads on their way to the Moon.

Dumbacher said the trade study would be completed this spring. "It's got to be done in the next month or so because it plays a factor in how we do our budget planning," he said.

If NASA goes with the RS-68, then the SSME would have no obvious future beyond the space shuttle program, which is slated to end in 2010.

From here

Interesting. Looks like NASA has some tugging in different directions still going on. If only there was some way to get the Congress critters to give them enough money to do both VSE and all that wonderful science.


This blog is still fubared. I'm hoping that a new post will force a republish and fix things, but...

This is seriously pissing me off.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Just seeing if putting up another post will fix my blog...or not.

Invited to do a Talk

On my Trifecta/Tri Challenge work for SC05 at the Commodity Cluster Symposium in Baltimore, MD in the end of July. I'm debating.

Are there any readers going to be out there?

CCSM Workshop Registration is Open

11th Annual CCSM Workshop
The Village at Breckenridge
Breckenridge, Colorado, 20 to 22 June 2006
Workshop Home Page

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Monday, March 13, 2006

Who Are these Guys?

I got a rather odd email at work:

Dear Candidate,

You were recently appointed as a biographical candidate to represent your industry in the Madison Who's Who Among Executives and Professionals, and for inclusion into the upcoming 2006-2007 "Honors Edition" of the registry. We are pleased to inform you that on March 8th your candidacy was approved. Your confirmation for inclusion will be effective within five business days, pending our receipt of the enclosed application.

The office of the managing director appoints individuals based on a candidates current position, and usually with information obtained from researched executive and professional listings. Your unique contributions to your profession make you a fine addition as individual acheivement is what Madison Who's Who is all about. Upon final confirmation you will be listed among thousands of accomplished individuals in the Madison Who's Who Registry. There is no cost to be included.

We do require additional information to complete the selection process and kindly ask that you access this form on our website at:

Or you can manually enter this address into your web browser:


Matthew Johnson
Managing Director

Madison Who's Who is not associated or affiliated with Marquis Who's Who or any other Who's Who.

Madison Who's Who, Inc.. 4-35 27th Ave., Long Island City, NY 11102 USA

My spamisense is going off, but I've been in Who's Who before in HS a long time ago, so I thought I'd ask about these guys. A quick glance at their website doesn't tell me much other than it seems to be Yet Another Paid Service. The very impersonal nature of their message to me at work makes me think that this is merely spam. hrm

Hrm. Nomination isn't a public item. Otherwise, I'd nominate Carlos and let him pick them apart. ;)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Better Baird Hamburgers

There are two different, but related, recipes for hamburgers that I like. Both of them are ones that came about since I got married. Neither one is all that unique, but I thought I'd do my foodie post today on the subject.

Both of the use 'little monsters' just to warn you...

The first is pretty straight forward.

1 lbs uber lean ground beef
4 strips of smoked bacon
1 habanero
1/2 yellow onion
garlic, sage, ginger
4 mushrooms (if fried)

mince bacon, habanero, and onion, very finely. Mix in bowl with ground beef. add garlic, sage, and ginger to taste. If the weather does permit, place on grill and have at it. If the weather does not or you lack a grill, cop a southron accept, get a frying pan, a pat of butter, and heat. Then after butter is melted, sprinkle on some garlic. Place burgers, fry until half done, add sliced mushrooms to saute.

Alernately, you could use this recipe:

3/4 lbs uber lean ground beef
1/4 lbs ground pork
1 habanero
1/2 yellow onion
garlic, sage, ginger
4 mushrooms (if fried)

same cooking instructions.

Wonderful flavor either way. One way is likely to kill you faster, I am sure.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Ukraine's Election and Corruption

Ukraine is preparing for parliamentary elections Mar. 26 amid political chaos and divisions, but little has been delivered so far on one of the main promises of last years' elections: to eradicate corruption.

The ballot will not only elect a new prime minister, it will complete the constitutional reform to a more parliamentary democracy.

Widespread poverty is the principal difficulty this country of 48 million faces. A worrying economic performance is taking prevalence in people's minds. They partly blame it on gas price hikes by Russia, but corruption remains a visible, largely unaddressed factor advancing poverty.

Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index for 2005 placed Ukraine in a worrying 107th place, along with Vietnam and Zimbabwe, accounting for one of the worst positions in Europe, second only to Russia.

With the current government facing the distrust of many voters who had previously supported it, surveys confirm that a large part of their disillusionment is due to a lack of tangible progress in the fight against corruption.

Read the rest here.

I'm dubious of some of the comments at the end of the article. ugh.

Princess and Woman's Day

March 4th Zoo Birthday Party

Feb 28 Birthday Pictures

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mammal Living Fossil

It has the face of a rat and the tail of a skinny squirrel — and scientists say this creature discovered living in central Laos is pretty special: It's a species believed to have been extinct for 11 million years.

The long-whiskered rodent made international headlines last spring when biologists declared they'd discovered a brand new species, nicknamed the Laotian rock rat.

It turns out the little guy isn't new after all, but a rare kind of survivor: a member of a family until now known only from fossils.

Nor is it a rat. This species, called Diatomyidae, looks more like small squirrels or tree shrews, said paleontologist Mary Dawson of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Dawson, with colleagues in France and China, report the creature's new identity in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

The resemblance is "absolutely striking," Dawson said. As soon as her team spotted reports about the rodent's discovery, "we thought, 'My goodness, this is not a new family. We've known it from the fossil record.'"

They set out to prove that through meticulous comparisons between the bones of today's specimens and fossils found in China and elsewhere in Asia.

To reappear after 11 million years is more exciting than if the rodent really had been a new species, said George Schaller, a naturalist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which unveiled the creature's existence last year. Indeed, such reappearances are so rare that paleontologists dub them "the Lazarus effect."

Read more here.

Whether or not this would be what they call the 'Lazarus Effect' or not would be debatavle. The term generally means for fossils. I guess it does apply here, but...anyways.

Enceladus' Liquid Water

The Cassini spacecraft has found evidence of liquid water spewing from geysers on one of Saturn's icy moons, raising the tantalizing possibility that the celestial object harbors life.

he surprising discovery excited some scientists, who say the Saturn moon, Enceladus, should be added to the short list of places within the solar system most likely to have extraterrestrial life.

Recent high-resolution images snapped by the orbiting Cassini confirmed the eruption of icy jets and giant water vapor plumes from geysers resembling frozen Old Faithfuls at Enceladus' south pole.

"We have the smoking gun" that proves the existence of water, said Carolyn Porco, a Cassini imaging scientist from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

If Enceladus does harbor life, it probably consists of microbes or other primitive organisms capable of living in extreme conditions, scientists say.

The findings were published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.

From here.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft may have found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in Yellowstone-like geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The rare occurrence of liquid water so near the surface raises many new questions about the mysterious moon.

"We realize that this is a radical conclusion -- that we may have evidence for liquid water within a body so small and so cold," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. "However, if we are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms."

High-resolution Cassini images show icy jets and towering plumes ejecting large quantities of particles at high speed. Scientists examined several models to explain the process. They ruled out the idea the particles are produced or blown off the moon's surface by vapor created when warm water ice converts to a gas. Instead, scientists have found evidence for a much more exciting possibility. The jets might be erupting from near-surface pockets of liquid water above 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit), like cold versions of the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone.

"We previously knew of at most three places where active volcanism exists: Jupiter's moon Io, Earth, and possibly Neptune's moon Triton. Cassini changed all that, making Enceladus the latest member of this very exclusive club, and one of the most exciting places in the solar system," said John Spencer, Cassini scientist, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.

"Other moons in the solar system have liquid-water oceans covered by kilometers of icy crust," said Andrew Ingersoll, imaging team member and atmospheric scientist at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "What's different here is that pockets of liquid water may be no more than tens of meters below the surface."

From here.

This suggests that there is a strong possibility that the standard 'planet' for life may not actually be a terrestrial world like Earth. It might actually be the iced over moon like Europa or Enceladus. Do we have a partial answer to the Fermi paradox then? Most life in the universe is actually hiding under the ice and can't get out?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Canadian Politics: What does this mean?

rime Minister Stephen Harper says he wants to get the federal government's relationship back on track with Quebec.

Harper says he wants to go ahead with what he calls open federalism that is appealing to Quebecers and to other provinces. The prime minister was in Quebec City today to meet with Liberal Premier Jean Charest.

From here.

Now, is there a Canuckistani reader that can translate into Americ for me?


Reading Commentary and Update

I have been amiss in keeping up to date my reading list. I have finished several books since my last two posts on the subject[1, 2]. I've read considerably more since then.

First off, let me address something quick. Homeward Bound just plain sucks. Don't buy it, even if you want to finish the series like I did. I enjoyed the first trilogy. Not from any PoV of rigorous AH, but as a fun romp through mil-SF. HB was just plain horrible. *sighs* I had hopes after Ruled Britannia that HT would improve again, but, alas, no.

Siberian Curse was much better. Unfortunately, I have a few disadvantages there. I Am Not An Economist. There are points there that from the discussion on ahf that I spawned that it might be a little (or more than a little) out of my league to really discuss it other than read. The discussion of one of the models from the book was really good and informative though. I do have to wonder how much TPC really is a valid economic measure or not. The same issues could have been pointed out about having too high of a TPC and a heat tax as you could about too low and a cold tax.

Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs was pretty good as well. I have to say that I am a bit disappointed that the era that I am interested in is not really covered that well. it might be that we are simply not knowledgable about the period between the Olmecs and the Classic Civlizations, is where I am most interested for writing purposes.

Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath was a very good book. It was technical and had a heavy bias towards oceanic data, but it was fun and interesitng. I was intending on doing a long and detailed post on it here today, but I seem to have left it at home, so that's a no go for now.

The Olmecs: America's First Civilization was a nice, but light read. It did give me the one most important aspect out of it all. That is that the Olmecs are not the civilization I am looking for. Alas. They effectively ended around 500 BC according to current understandings of their civilization. There is the so-called Epi-Olmec civ that would be of the right time period, but it was only lightly covered.

Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities : The Causes of Mass Extinctions I just started. It's a condensed and updated version of Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath in that it covers a lot of the same territory if in less detail and is more up to date (2004 vs 1997 for publication date) and it has one of the first book's authors. It looks promising. We'll see.

After that I think I'll be reading Chavin: And the Origins of the Andean Civilization. It looks like its a light read though. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

QDR irritates China

Once again, a report by the US military has provoked a public display of ire in Beijing. This time, it is the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), published in February, in which the senior leadership of the Department of Defense (DoD) "sets out where the department currently is and the direction we believe it needs to go in fulfilling our responsibilities to the American people". The assessment is primarily concerned with what it calls "a long war" against terrorists, "currently... centred in Iraq and Afghanistan", but it also has something to say about the wider security environment, and in particular about China.

In the most recent QDR, the Pentagon has pinpointed the perceived threat from China far more specifically than in previous reports, and this alone is enough to be of concern to Beijing. Robert Sutter, professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University and former national intelligence officer for East Asia and the Pacific at the US National Intelligence Council, told Jane's that the QDR reflects "continued strong US government (not just DoD) concern about China's military build-up and other policies seen as disruptive or potentially disruptive to international norms supported by the US government".

There's some more here.

There are Many Copies

Monday, March 06, 2006

Projected Extinction Hotspots

Read the attached here.

Is This the MIssing Aurora?

For 16 years, Aviation Week & Space Technology has investigated myriad sightings of a two-stage-to-orbit system that could place a small military spaceplane in orbit. Considerable evidence supports the existence of such a highly classified system, and top Pentagon officials have hinted that it's "out there," but iron-clad confirmation that meets AW&ST standard has remained elusive. Now facing the possibility that this innovative "Blackstar" system may have been shelved, we elected to share what we've learned about it with our readers, rather than let an intriguing technological breakthrough vanish into "black world" history, known to only a few insiders. U.S. intelligence agencies may have quietly mothballed a highly classified two-stage-to-orbit spaceplane system designed in the 1980s for reconnaissance, satellite-insertion and, possibly, weapons delivery. It could be a victim of shrinking federal budgets strained by war costs, or it may not have met performance or operational goals.

This two-vehicle "Blackstar" carrier/orbiter system may have been declared operational during the 1990s.

Read the rest here.

During the 1990s, the so-called Aurora program was tauted as the reason that the SR-71 was retired: they had a replacement system up and running. I was one of the people online that was debunking that such a program existed. *glyph of potential amused embarassment* I was still right...the official reason that the SR-71 was retired was that the satellites were good enough. If the USAF had an on-demand delivery of satellites and a spaceplane, then I was technically - and so were the generals stating - right. It was a 'satellite,' being an orbiter and such, then its more an amused situation than an embarassing one.

Note, Avleak has been rather wrong before, so just because they have a solid case, it doens't mean that they are right. I am rather stoked if this is true, though.

PS My daughter has nada as far as her name and this aircraft, damnit. Just cuz I was a stealth aircraft junkie in the past....:P:P:P

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Homo Lineages

I just watched a show on the whole Hobbit controversy. It was, of course, pinky deep. There were some interesting arguments for an against the whole Hobbit is a different species. There were two that were opposed:

1. The Hobbit's brain is simply too small. It fits better with a microcephalic H sapiens individual in percentage wise than a derived, dwarf H erectus. The Hobbit has a brain of about 490 cc and erectus has a brain of about 700 cc (and change). When animals go dwarf, they typically lose about 15% of their brain size for half their vertical height (iirc). The Hobbit lost a lot more than that if its from erectus.

2. The technology that was exhibited by the Hobbit was far and away much better than any that the H erectus has ever been found with. In fact, it's a tool kit only ever been found with H sapiens. No other homind has this tool kit. Ever.

The answer to 1. is that they have muliple individuals over a prolonged period. That hurts. However, the comment that this is just plain wrong based on what we know of evolutionary biology and island dwarfism. There's either a chance this ia the first case where what we think we know, doesn't work. Or...

Has anyone considered this might be something more like a H habilis descedent?

As for the tech toolkit. Could they have traded or stolen them? Or at elast the rudiments?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

1 Year Appointment

30 inches and 24 lbs 2.2 oz.

Careful, she takes down 2 1/2 yo when they take away her toys!

Mass Extinctions and Their Aftermath

This is turning out to be a good book for an overview. A bit dated, perhaps, since it was published in 1997, but I strongly recommend it.

I've been marking up my book for outtakes. I'll have them posted in the next few days. Let's say that I've been convinced that the KT Event was an impact extinction. There's a lot of very convincing evidence (floral even too!) that I was not aware of above and beyond. There are some other extinction events that are interesting too.

A quick note, after the Devonian Extinctions, the authors state, there was a very long period of no mass extinctions until the Permian Whammo:120 my. The ecologies changed greatly between Point A and Point B even without a mass extinction.

Avrora's BDay Pictures...coming

I'll post some tonight if possible. Tomorrow moring at the latest.

Titian's Methane Problem Explained?

An international team of planetary scientists may have solved the mystery of why the atmosphere of Saturn's moon, Titan, is rich in methane.

Methane, which on Titan plays a role similar to water on Earth, is locked in a methane-rich water ice that forms a crust above an ocean of liquid water mixed with ammonia, the scientists say. Major episodes of outgassing pumped methane into Titan's mostly nitrogen atmosphere three times during the moon's evolutionary history, they discovered.


The first episode of methane gas release happened after Titan formed its dense rock core and water mantle beneath an ice crust, said UA planetary sciences Professor Jonathan Lunine, an interdisciplinary scientist for the Huygens probe.

Ammonia acting as an antifreeze, heat leftover from formation, and heat from radioactive elements aided the release of methane during the first billion years, or possibly just a few hundred million years, in Titan's history. Much of the methane in this first release might have been reabsorbed into Titan's interior. But whatever methane was left in the atmosphere was photochemically destroyed in the first billion years, Lunine said.

The second methane-release episode around two billion years ago is even more interesting, Lunine said. That's when convection began within Titan's silicate core. "The core, made of rock, continued to heat up because it contains natural radioactive elements like uranium, potassium and thorium. On Earth, these elements are concentrated in the crust, but on Titan, they'd be deep down in the rock. So the core gets hotter and hotter, until finally it's soft enough for convection to start."

Convection is the mechanical turnover of material to remove heat. The second event of around two billion years ago injected a burst of convection heat into Titan's overlying mantle, causing the ice crust to thin and methane to outgas through ice to the surface.

The latest methane-release episode began around 500 million years ago. It's the result of the planet cooling by convection in Titan's solid ice crust.

Read the rest here.

A mite bit disappointing if true.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Spinosaurus: Good to be the king

The Age of Dinosaurs ended millions of years ago but paleontologists are still attempting to get a handle on the immense diversity and diverse immensity of these creatures.

Take the report last month that Spinosaurus is now officially the biggest carnivorous dinosaur known to science. This two-legged beast actually strode onto the fossil scene in 1915 when a specimen was described by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer. He figured this theropod (defined as a two-legged carnivore) was bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex, but the original Spinosaurus bones were destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944. So the T. rex reigned as the king size, carnivorous land beast for decades.

Then along came Giganotosaurus 11 years ago.

Now Cristiano Dal Sasso of the Civil Natural History Museum in Milan says Giganotosaurus has been dethroned based on estimates from a new Spinosaurus skull.

Read the rest here.