Friday, November 30, 2007

Global Warming is Inevitable Part N+1

India on Tuesday slammed a recommendation in a new report from the UN Development Programme that urges developing countries cut carbon emissions by 20 percent over three decades starting in 2020.

The report released in Brazil on Tuesday on fighting climate change said global warming could have apocalyptic consequences for the world's poor and also said richer countries need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050.

"This looks egalitarian, but it isn't," said Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of India's national policy making body, the Planning Commission, in New Delhi, pointing out in terms of per capita emissions the US emits 20 tonnes, the European Union 10 to 15 tonnes and India one.

Ah, but what's not said is that India and China are both growing in their emissions at rates that are much faster and have populations higher than anyone else. This past year according to some estimates China surpassed the US for carbon emissions a decade earlier than anticipated. Per capita, China would only be somewhere around 5 tonnes. 1/4 that of the US per capita. Yet it has a population 4 times larger and if they reach the same emissions per capita, or even half, they will have more than than the US + Europe do now together. Then add India with its population growing doubleplusuberfast and its emissions per capita rising even faster...

Yep, this is gonna be inevitable. Better start looking at what to do to adapt and mitigate. Forget using the word 'prevent' wrt global warming.

Reading Update

With all the traveling, I have actually had a chance to read. It's a little bizarro in some ways that I got as much reading done as I did: I was traveling with a 2 year old after all rather than alone and we were, well, on vacation. Aren't we supposed to go DO things? Yes, we were and, yes, we did. The problem is taht we were traveling with a 2 year old and that means naps. Lyuda gets antsy and needs to run off to do stuff then. I am quite happy to grab a book and read. I need slow down time. My wife needs hyperkinetic speed up time to relax. Because Avrora needed her naps, I got it and so did Lyuda.

I read two books while I was in Hawaii while Avrora napped. One was about Mexico, but a bit dated. The other was only four years old and about illegal immigration. The former book, Distant Neighbors, has been cited by a lot of reviewers of other books on Mexico as something that all the newer books were trying to live up to. Even though it was published in 1989, it seemed like that would be a good place to start.

It was. Having been a Borderer for nine years, it turns out that I knew quite a bit about Mexicans. More so than I thought. Being a close neighbor, you pick up more than I would have thought. I rather liked the book though. Obviously some of the open ended questions from the book have been answered: would Mexico's political institutions survive the economic meltdown of the time? Yeah, it did. It's politics have changed, but its a recent one. NAFTA has had a huge impact and the illegal immigrant problem has taken wings of its own. I do recommend the book though as that it helps give a lot of the background of the politics of that past that you don't really absorb otherwise such as the origin and early evolution of PAN (the political party).

On the other hand, if you are a xenophobe, love Tom Tancredo, and adore the Border Patrol, please, read the book, Illegals. It will fit right in with your thought process. For myself, when I was going into this, I expected a book that was anti-illegal immigration. Indeed, I expected it to be alarmist and rather one sided. However, its fair to say that I was being naive. It was written in such a way as to not only be alarmist, but would imply combinations of dark conspiracies, the foulness of illegals on a deep innate level, and that the Aztlan Reconquista twits are not only more than twits, but are winning (while implying Washington DC wants it to happen). It was also, in my absolutely arrogant opinion, an outstanding example of how to lie with statistics. The book really outraged me, but not in the way that the author intended: I was outraged by the author's pure chutzpah in writing what he did. There was only one time that I agreed with the author at all and that horrified me that even that much agreement with the book happened: it was wrt the shredding of some 90,000 documents at the Laguna Nigel immigration office in California as a way to clear a backlog. I really didn't like the book and I really don't recommend it. I only picked it up - used! thank all that's good and light, because I am trying to read the different perspectives wrt immigration debate. I need a mental bleaching after this one. oy.

To that end, I am unsure what I am going to read next. I was thinking about reading either about Russia's Far East issues or about the evolution of the dinosaurs. I suspect that its going to be the latter. Most of my books to be read right now are about politics and Mexican history. I need a break after that last book. bleh.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We're Back

...but tired.

I'm behind on work, but I'll get caught up as soon as possible and be able to blog soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Excitement and Headaches

I've been trying to get my wife registered for her next semester. We worked out the schedule, but stumbled upon how to fit in her first chem class. If she has to take it in the fall, it's gonna cause issues by pushing out her transfer date. Making it worse is that we need to fit something in that's 'interesting' for her. She took two math classes this semester along with english and a couple 'fun' classes, but they were not intellectually stimulating much. Hence she got bored. There are a few possibilities replacement classes, but she has another 6 classes that are contingent on this first chem. oy.

I'm starting classes again to try to get that procrastinated degree in the spring. I went and took the placement test since I've been out of school for so long. I was concerned that I might have forgotten too much or that my english is not no goot these thar days. I whizzed through the test in far less than half the time necessary. I was a little concerned because in my experience if it is too easy you probably screwed up. Turned out I was wrong: I placed as high as they allow. Even so, I am going to see the department heads about what I can register for/test/skip ahead in (klep is what my folks used to call it).

We're off in 3 hours to catch a flight to Hawaii! We'll be in Honolulu for a week, but we'll do some island hopping at the same time. Blogging is going to be pretty nonexistent for the next week. I'm splitting work early to help finish the packing.

Happy TDay everyone. See you in a week!

South Korea Adds Moon Probes

South Korea plans to launch a lunar probe in 2020 and make a moon landing by 2025 under a new space project that will develop indigenous rockets to put satellites into orbit, the Science Ministry said on Tuesday.

The lunar probe program will be based on a rocket South Korea is developing at a cost of 3.6 trillion won ($3.9 billion) in the next decade.

Now we have the Euros in general, Germany in particular, the US, China, Russia, Japan, India, and, now South Korea. *boggle*

How long until Brazil?

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Little Note to the Los Alamosians

It seems that our old classmate & friend, Bob Steinke, is participating in the Lunar Lander Challenge. Go take a look at the videos: Bob's the President of Speedup!

PS to WSMRites. Beware! There must be something about that radioactivity in the north that makes us love rockets. BWAHAHAHAHA!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Republican YouTube Debate

Lyuda and I are going to be submitting videos tonight or tomorrow for the Republican CNN/YouTube Debate. Lyuda is going to pose an immigration question. I am debating whether to go after Tancredo over immigration or fire off a question to McCain. I'm not nearly as photogenic as Lyuda is though, so her question will more than likely be accepted over mine if either are. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First Petascale Computing Book

The College of Computing at Georgia Tech and Chapman & Hall/CRC Press today announced the launch of “Petascale Computing: Algorithms and Applications”, the first published collection on petascale techniques for computational science and engineering, at the SC07 conference. Edited by David A. Bader, associate professor of computing and executive director of high-performance computing at Georgia Tech, this collection represents an academic milestone in the high-performance computing industry and is the first work to be released through Chapman & Hall/CRC Press’ new Computational Science series.

“High-performance computing will enable breakthrough science and engineering in the 21st century,” said Bader. “My goal in developing this book was to inspire members of the high-performance computing community to solve computational grand challenges that will help our society, protect our environment, and improve our understanding in fundamental ways, all through the efficient use of petascale computing.”

Featuring contributions from the world’s leading experts in computational science, “Petascale Computing: Algorithms and Applications” discusses expected breakthroughs in the computational science and engineering field and covers a breadth of topics in petascale computing, including architectures, software, programming methodologies, tools, scalable algorithms, performance evaluation and application development. Covering a wide range of issues critical to the advancement of the high-performance computing/supercomputing industry, this edited collection illustrates the application of petascale computing to space and Earth science missions, biological systems and climate science, among others, and details the simulation of multiphysics, cosmological evolution, molecular dynamics and biomolecules.

“In the same way as petascale computing will open up new and unprecedented opportunities for research in computational science, I expect this current book to lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of research in computational science and engineering,” said Horst Simon, associate laboratory director for computing sciences, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and editor of Chapman & Hall/CRC Press’ new Computational Science book series.

hmm. Exascale is next. The power and environmental requirements make my head swim though. Even with the reductions we've been talking about through the nextgen (or two) technologies. Imagine a single 'node' requires 100w. Now there are 10 million of them...

computronium *snorks*

Russian General Threatens to Move Missiles to Belarus

A senior general warned Wednesday that Russia could send short-range missiles to Belarus as part of efforts to counter planned U.S. missile defense sites in Europe, Russian news reports said.

Col.-Gen. Vladimir Zaritsky, the chief of artillery and rocket forces for the Russian Ground Troops, said that "any action meets a counteraction, and this is the case with elements of the U.S. missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

The U.S. plan would install a radar base in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland — both former Soviet satellites that are now NATO members. It is part of a wider missile shield involving defenses in California and Alaska that the United States says are to defend against any long-range missile attack from countries such as North Korea or Iran.

Russia strongly opposes the idea, saying Iran is decades away from developing missile technology that could threaten Europe or North America, and it says the U.S. bases will undermine Russia's own missile deterrent force.

President Vladimir Putin and other officials have warned that Russia could target the planned U.S. defense sites in Europe with its missiles.and that he said so in so many words when a woman used the word "bitch" to describe her.

Zaritsky was responding to his Belarusian counterpart, who said Russia could provide Belarus with its new short-range Iskander missiles, which are believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

That would give them back their option to have a limited nuclear strike on Europe again. Idiots.

Ancient Retroviruses in Our Genes

When ancient retroviruses slipped bits of their DNA into the primate genome millions of years ago, they successfully preserved their own genetic legacy. Today an estimated 8 percent of the human genetic code consists of endogenous retroviruses (ERVs)--the DNA remnants from these so-called "selfish parasites."

Surprisingly, the infected hosts and their primate descendants also appear to have benefited from this genetic invasion, new evidence suggests. The ancient retroviruses--distant relatives of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)--helped a gene called p53 become an important "master gene regulator" in primates, according to a study published this week in the online early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offers an explanation for how regulatory networks of genes evolved. Not all genes are created equal; some are masters that can selectively turn on and off many other genes. The advent of gene regulatory networks allowed for greater control over gene expression in higher vertebrates. With tightly controlled variations in gene expression, species that had very similar genetic codes--for instance, humans and chimpanzees--could nevertheless exhibit striking differences.

Scientists have long wondered how a master regulator such as p53 gained the ability to turn on and off a broad range of other genes related to cell division, DNA repair, and programmed cell death. How did p53 build its complex and powerful empire, so to speak"

Using the tools of computational genomics, the UCSC team gathered compelling evidence that retroviruses helped out. ERVs jumped into new positions throughout the human genome and spread numerous copies of repetitive DNA sequences that allowed p53 to regulate many other genes, the team contends.

"This would have provided a mechanism to quickly establish a gene regulatory network in a very short evolutionary time frame," said Ting Wang, a post-doctoral researcher at UCSC and lead author of the paper.

Thus, p53 was crowned "guardian of the genome," as biologists now call it. Its job is to coordinate the surveillance system that monitors the well-being of cells. Indeed, p53 is so important that when it fails, cancer often results. About half of all human tumors contain a mutated or defective p53 gene.

"Our work provides a new window on the complex biology of p53," said coauthor David Haussler, a professor of biomolecular engineering at UCSC and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. "From a biomedical standpoint, it's important because these changes only occurred in the primate lineage, not in mice."

By analyzing and comparing genetic data from different species, the team estimated that certain ERVs entered the genome about 40 million years ago, and spread rapidly in primates about 25 million years ago.

Scientists have long suspected that retroviral elements could play a role in gene regulation. More than 50 years ago, Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock observed that transposable elements--or "jumping genes"--altered gene expression in maize. In 1971, Roy Britten and Eric Davidson theorized that commonly observed repetitive DNA sequences actually served as codes for gene regulatory networks. The DNA remnants of retroviruses tend to be repetitive sequences and can jump around, when active.

The UCSC team finally gathered concrete evidence to support Britten and Davidson's hypothesis. The group trolled the human genome for ERVs, identified p53 binding sites in them, and tested their ability to activate genes regulated by p53. More than one-third of all known p53-binding sites turned out to be associated with ERVs, they discovered.

These results raise new questions about the role of so-called "junk DNA," the vast regions of the genome that don't code for proteins. ERVs fall into that category. Many scientists once believed that such DNA served no purpose, but new data from the Haussler lab and other labs are challenging that view.

"We're starting to uncover the treasure in this junk," said Wang.

Moreover, the team has proposed a new mechanism for evolutionary change. Conventional wisdom says that evolution is driven by small changes--point mutations--to the genetic code. If a change is beneficial, the mutation is passed onto future generations.

Now it appears that another level of evolution occurs that is not driven by point mutations. Instead, retroviruses insert DNA sequences and rearrange the genome, which leads to changes in gene regulation and expression. If such a change in gene regulation is beneficial, it is passed onto future generations.

This research should have broad implications, according to Wang.

"Our prediction is that this is a general mechanism that has been around ever since viruses," Wang said. "ERV-mediated expansion of a gene regulatory network probably happened more than once and not just in primates. We predict it led to other master gene regulators, not just p53."

hmmm. Makes you wonder what current retroviruses might end up 'contributing' to our future genetics. Or evolution. The thought that HIV might have soemthing to contribute to our future genome or evolution just makes my skin...crawl.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


car issues...again. Not buying a Chrysler again. frack me. They suck so bad their maintenance guys just fucked up the car.

New Top 500 List

Counting down from the top: BlueGene/L, BlueGene/P, Altix (quadcore), HP ib Cluster, HP ib Cluster, Cray Redstorm (XT2?), Cray XT3/4 hybrid, BlueGene eServer, Cray XT4 (YEAH! US!), & BlueGene eServer.

The top spot had a benchmarked 478 teraflops (mutter, mutter, Livermore, mutter). To make it in the top 10 you had to get 82 teraflops. To get onto the top 500 list at all required almost 6 teraflops now.

There are a lot of interesting statistics that you can dredge up. The US has 56.6% of the HPC machines in the world. Next down is...the UK at 9.6%, Germany 6.2%, and Japan 4%. Tawain has one more HPC platform than China does. I would love to see what Carlos et al could do with this list wrt economics. ;)

Browse around if you want to satisfy your HPC geekiness.

USA's MDA Talking with Ukraine

Obering spoke with AW&ST from Kiev during one of a series of visits to explore opportunities to expand industry cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine, which provided hefty technical expertise for the Soviet ballistic missile fleet.

Already, cooperation exists with Boeing on the Sea Launch program and other efforts are under way with Lockheed Martin. The Ukraine is also thought to have conducted development work for the countermeasures incorporated into Soviet and now Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Further industrial cooperation with the Ukraine may also quell some of that nation’s concerns about U.S. plans to expand its ballistic missile defense system into Eastern Europe. Government officials from Kiev have been hesitant on the issue, siding with their Russian neighbors in the East more than their Polish neighbors to the North.

OoOoOoOooo. Now that's why Russia doesn't like the BMD bits in Europe. lol.

A bit more seriously, if the Russians haven't developed more advanced techniques since the Soviet Union, they're in for a lot of hurt just because of the fact that its really, really hard to keep that $TECH secret. There are far too many scientists and engineers from the xUSSR that have fallen on hard times.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Human Evolutionary "Tree"

Another Fossil Great Ape

A fossil unearthed in Kenya belongs to a new species of ape that lived around the same time as the last common ancestor of gorillas and humans.

The 10-million-year-old jawbone and 11 teeth were discovered in volcanic mud flow deposits in Kenya's Nakali region.

Dubbed Nakalipithecus nakayamai, the new species supports the idea that the ancestors of great apes and humans evolved exclusively in Africa, the researchers say. A competing hypothesis states that the last common ancestor of both groups descended from a repatriated hominid that left Africa around 16.5 million years ago for Europe or Asia, but then returned about 9.5 million years ago.

Todd Disotell, an anthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the recent discovery, called the new fossil a "great find," but said it is too inconclusive to draw major conclusions from. "It could well be a Eurasian immigrant," Disotell told LiveScience.

The new fossil is detailed in the Nov. 12 issue of the journal for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Second Ape in recent times after a positive dearth of them for a long, long time. The ape family tree is getting bushy too!

Bio Hydrogen?

Hydrogen as an everyday, environmentally friendly fuel source may be closer than we think, according to Penn State researchers.

"The energy focus is currently on ethanol as a fuel, but economical ethanol from cellulose is 10 years down the road," says Bruce E. Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering. "First you need to break cellulose down to sugars and then bacteria can convert them to ethanol."

Logan and Shaoan Cheng, research associate, suggest a method based on microbial fuel cells to convert cellulose and other biodegradable organic materials directly into hydrogen in today's (Nov. 12) issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online.

The researchers used naturally occurring bacteria in a microbial electrolysis cell with acetic acid – the acid found in vinegar. Acetic acid is also the predominant acid produced by fermentation of glucose or cellulose. The anode was granulated graphite, the cathode was carbon with a platinum catalyst, and they used an off-the-shelf anion exchange membrane. The bacteria consume the acetic acid and release electrons and protons creating up to 0.3 volts. When more than 0.2 volts are added from an outside source, hydrogen gas bubbles up from the liquid.

"This process produces 288 percent more energy in hydrogen than the electrical energy that is added to the process," says Logan.

Water hydrolysis, a standard method for producing hydrogen, is only 50 to 70 percent efficient. Even if the microbial electrolysis cell process is set up to bleed off some of the hydrogen to produce the added energy boost needed to sustain hydrogen production, the process still creates 144 percent more available energy than the electrical energy used to produce it.

For those who think that a hydrogen economy is far in the future, Logan suggests that hydrogen produced from cellulose and other renewable organic materials could be blended with natural gas for use in natural gas vehicles.

Very kewl. We'll see how it works out. Lotsa tech turns out to be dead ends, so keep that in mind.

Boneyard #9 is UP!

Oh yeah! TBY is up at Catalog of Organisms. For those that care, I have two posts about mass extinctions in the mix, but there's lots of other goodies from the paleo world. Check it out!

Greenland Rising

Greenland appears to be floating upwards – its landmass is rising up to 4 centimetres each year, scientists reveal.

And the large country's new-found buoyancy is a symptom of Greenland's shrinking ice cap, they add.

"The Earth is elastic and if you put a load on top of it, then the surface will move down; if you remove the load, then the surface will start rising again," explains Shfaqat Khan of the Danish National Space Center in Copenhagen.

In the case of Greenland, the "load" is its ice cap, he says.

Such uplift is not an unknown phenomenon. Relic "raised beaches" are relatively common in some areas, where the loss of ice after the last Ice Age caused the land to rise, leaving beaches often metres above the water.

Khan and his team detected the country's uplift using measurements from GPS stations located on the bedrock, underneath the ice.

Khan and his colleagues have been monitoring data from these stations since 2001 and have found that the southeastern tip of the country is definitely rising upwards. They have also found that the rate of rise has dramatically accelerated in recent years.

Well, at least greenland will stay above the water. 4 cm/year is pretty darn fast.

Some Days There's Lots of Little Shibbits...

...and they're all out to getcha.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Kurdistan: 52nd State?

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, talking to a Kurdish politician. The Kurds, of course, see liberation as the essence of the American idea -- if you were Kurdish, you'd tend to like anyone who took Saddam Hussein's boot off your neck - -and this particular politician asked me how a territory becomes an American state. I realized that he was asking a very specific question -- how does Kurdistan become a state? I told him that we still haven't worked out the whole Puerto Rico thing yet, so don't expect statehood for Kurdistan anytime soon.


No, I am not taking this seriously. Talk about really screwing with the international order though! TUrkey would, erm, love us too. I simply cannot imagine what this would do, it's so off the wall!

Russians Launch Real(?) Next Gen Spacecraft.

Russia has launched a project to create a new generation of spacecraft and boosters, the head of national space administration said on Friday, making clear that they would not appear on orbit before 2020.

"A tender to design a new booster and spaceship has been announced," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Roskosmos chief Anatoly Perminov as saying.

Leadership in space exploration was an issue of national pride in the Soviet Union, which was the first to launch a satellite and a human into space.

Although badly hit in the years of post-Soviet political and economic turmoil, the space sector remains one of a few where Russia remains competitive and on which it pins hopes to diversify its economy heavily reliant on oil and gas exports.

Perminov did not give further details of the tender, but said TsSKB-Progress from the Volga city of Samara is likely to bid with its Soyuz-3 design of spacecraft, as well as Moscow's Khrunichev centre with Angara 3P and Angara 5P.


Perminov reiterated Russia's commitment to build its own cosmodrome to launch new rockets. At the moment Russia rents its main cosmodrome, Baikonur, from ex-Soviet Kazakhstan.

He said at the same time he hoped Baikonur would be used for at least another 13 years.

"We are not leaving and will not be able to leave Baikonur until 2020 as long as Soyuz craft fly," he said, quoted by RIA news agency.

Note: it's not Kliper. That was nothing more than hot air from Energia.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's a Shark Eat Amphibian Eat Fish World!

Permian-period sharks—like the one in the fossil—were only 19 inches (50 centimeters) long and ambushed their prey, swimming up from behind and swallowing it whole.

The fossilized amphibian is also in exactly the right position to suggest it had been eaten—it was lying tail-first along the shark's digestive tract, according to Kriwet.

"Also, the fish remains are fully enclosed within the amphibian's outer covering of scales," he added. That confirms that it was indeed eaten by the amphibian and not the shark.

Before the shark ate it, the amphibian had caught a young fish known as an acanthodian, which was covered in bony spines.

"The fish was swallowed side on, otherwise the spines could have got stuck in the amphibian's mouth or throat," Kriwet said.

"The fish is situated in quite the correct area of digestive tract of the amphibian," said said study co-author Ulriche Heidtke, a paleontologist from the National History Museum of the Palatinate in Bad Dürkheim, Germany.

"It clearly shows the hallmarks of digestion, [such as] disintegration," he added.

That's an interesting contrast with the body fossils found recently: no scales.

Ungulate Fossil Found in India

As if hidden from the paleo tooth fairy, a lone molar belonging to a hoofed mammal stayed tucked beneath a pillow of volcanic rock in central India for more than 65 million years. Recently uncovered, the tooth predates similar fossils found across the globe.

The dental discovery sheds light on the evolution of adaptations that allowed a group of mammals called ungulates to thrive as expert grazers. It also suggests, according to newly published research on the tooth, that the Indian subcontinent could be the point of origin of many groups of mammals.

The lower right molar, about half the size of an ant (2.5 millimeters long), was found embedded in central India's Deccan volcanic flows. The researchers estimate the tooth dates back to the late Cretaceous period (144 million to 65 million years ago), a time when India was not connected with other continents and dinosaurs still walked the Earth.

The fossil belonged to a new species of ungulate dubbed Kharmerungulatum vanvaleni, a hoofed animal related to modern horses, cows, pigs, sheep and deer. And it represents the oldest known evidence for the so-called archaic ungulates (small, primitive hoofed mammals), predating by millions of years the explosion of mammalian life that occurred during Paleocene Epoch, from 65 million to nearly 55 million years ago.

"Until now, the known fossil record of [the] oldest archaic ungulates or supposed ancestors of living ungulates comes from the Early Paleocene of North America," Guntupalli Prasad of the University of Jammu in India told LiveScience. He is the lead author of the tooth study, detailed in the Nov. 9 issue of the journal Science.

So the ungulates survived on the Indian subcontinent throught he Deccan Traps to the current day. huh. Very, very deadly that eruption.

Bio Evidence for TJ Extinction

The authors note that "the release of CO2 from the outgassing of a large volume of basaltic lava has been cited as triggering an interval of intense greenhouse warming that resulted in a mass extinction at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary (200 million years ago)," citing the studies of Yapp and Poths (1996), McElwain et al. (1999) and McHone (2003), and they write that "similar transient increases in paleo-pCO2 have been identified at other important paleontologic boundaries using fossil stomatal data, including the Permian-Triassic (250 million years ago) and the Cretaceous-Tertiary (65 million years ago)," citing the work of Retallack (2001) and Beerling et al. (2002). However, they report that in addition to releasing CO2 into the air, "large flood basalt eruptions may include the loading of the atmosphere with SO2," which could also produce mass extinctions. Hence, they decided to collect a set of real-world measurements designed to determine if elevated concentrations of atmospheric SO2 can lower plant stomatal index in the same way that elevated concentrations of CO2 do, which if found to be the case would imply that calculations of pCO2 based on the stomatal frequency of fossil leaves may actually be due in large part to SO2, implying lower concentrations of atmospheric CO2 during past mass extinction events, which would imply less intense greenhouse warming and possibly reveal SO2 to be the primary culprit behind the mass die-offs.


Tanner et al. measured the stomatal index (SI) of the common swordfern (Nephrolepis exaltata) in various plumes of actively outgassing vents of Kilauea, a basaltic shield volcano on the southeastern flank of Hawaii, as well as in other locations chosen in such a way as to provide situations where CO2 was high and SO2 low, where CO2 was low and SO2 high, and where both CO2 and SO2 were either high or low together.


Tanner et al. conclude that "long-term eruptions may have produced a similar phenotypic response in plant species across large areas of the globe that is indistinguishable from that produced by elevated CO2." As a result, they further conclude that it is "necessary to examine more closely the impact of volcanogenic SO2 on the global environment and the potential role of SO2 outgassing as a mechanism of extinction."

hmmm. Interesting. Plants respond to SO2 similiarly as to elevated CO2. It would be interesting to see if there was a similar response among those critters that are supposed to be vulnerable to SO2 poisoning - like amphibians - to see if there was a die back at the same time. If not there might be a small issue here. Or it might be a way to differentiate the exact mechanism between CO2 and SO2 from flood basalts.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Global Warming is Inevitable Part X

Emissions of greenhouse gases will rise by 57 percent by 2030 compared to current levels, which will increase the Earth's surface temperature by at least three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Wednesday.

In its annual report on global energy needs, the Paris-based agency projected greenhouse-gas pollution would rise by 1.8 percent annually by 2030 on the basis of projected energy use and current efforts to mitigate emissions.

The IEA saw little chance of reducing this pollution to a stable, safer level any time soon.

It also poured cold water on a scenario outlined earlier this year by the United Nations' main authority on global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC said that in order to limit the average increase in global temperatures to 2.4 C (4.3 F) -- the most optimistic of any scenario -- the concentration of greenhouse gases would have to stabilise at 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.

To achieve this goal, CO2 emissions would have to peak by 2015 at the latest, then fall by between 50 and 85 percent by 2050, the panel.

But the IEA's World Energy Outlook report saw no peak in emissions before 2020.

To achieve the 450ppm target would mean that CO2 from energy sources would have to peak by 2012, which in turn would require a massive drive in energy efficiency and a switch to non-fossil fuels, the report said.


Under the IEA's most optimistic scenario -- which takes into account measures currently in the planning stage for tackling emissions -- greenhouse-gas pollution would rise by one percent per year, rather than 1.8 percent on present trends.

Emissions would decline steadily beyond 2030, translating into an eventual rise in temperatures of "about" three C (5.4 F), IEA analyst Trevor Morgan said.

In contrast, under the IEA's most pessimistic scenario, warming could reach six C (10.8 F) if China and India continue their strong growth relentlessly, using coal as a principal energy source.

By 2030, the biggest polluters would be China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan, the IEA said.

Please note: China has stated that it will not do anything to harm its economic growth - such as not using coal - until 2030. 2030! That would be inline with the IEA's most pessimistic scenario. Not good. Kepp in mind for an uber mass extinction the key number is 10 deg C. erg.

Deutschland uber den Mond?

Germany hopes to put an unmanned space craft into the moon's orbit in the early part of the next decade, a senior German official said on Wednesday.

The lunar orbit mission will be useful for scientific research, Deputy Economy Minister Peter Hintze, the government's aerospace coordinator, told reporters. "It is also a chance for Germany to prove its competence in this area."

Hintze said a report prepared by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) would be presented to the government for consideration.

"The essence of this report is that it is possible and it makes sense," he said. "The political decision has not been made yet."

The project would be called LEO -- Lunar Exploration Orbiter -- and could be fired into space in 2012 if decisions are made and sufficient financing found, Hintze said.

He said initial costs for the project would be around 350 million euros ($513.6 million), which would cover the planning, building and launch of the spacecraft.

Lunar Brats!


China to Build Space Station by 2020...or Not?

China, the third country to put a man into space on its own, plans to launch a space station by 2020, one of its top rocket scientists said on Wednesday, prompting an official denial that left any plans unclear.

The space station -- potentially the world's second -- was planned as a "small-scale 20-tonne space workshop," the China Daily quoted Long Lehao, a leading designer of the country's Long March 3A launcher, as saying.

"It is the first time a timetable has been made public for the building of the first space station, the third and final step of the country's current manned space program," Long said.

But a space official later used the official Xinhua news agency to curtly deny any firm plans.

"China at present has not decided on developing a space station," Li Guoping, spokesman for the China National Space Administration, told Xinhua.

First, can you spot the inaccuracy?

Second, I have a feeling that China hasn't really made up its mind what direction they are really going. The news out is one day that they are going to land people on the moon and the next is that they are building a space station or and then...I'm not saying that they can't do all of them, but I suspect that they will only do some of them. The West's press' tendency to make blurbs and believe too much often makes it sound as though China is steam rolling its way through space when they've only up a few people up.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Addressing YAGUMETs

Dark Mutterings During the Dawn

Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while know that I have a fascination with mass extinctions. What causes such traumatic changes to the biodiversity, their resultant evolutionary consequences, and the what-if buried there-in happens to be a subject that absolutely fascinates me. It probably steps from the combination of interests of dinosaurs that grew when I was a very small boy, alternate history and what-if's that I picked up from SHWI, and the interest in modeling some of these events. I am sure there's a touch of that mad and half-baked world builder that all SFnal nuts have as well. In learning about these extinction events and writing them up, I have come across something that has started to annoy me a great deal. I've been putting in jabs at it from time to time, Now its time to take off the gloves and beat the subject senseless.

The YAGUMET subject in question is actually a rather human problem: we all want to remembered for doing something great, leaving our mark, or however you want to describe the problem. This extends to mass extinction theories as well. The scientists involved are perfectly human and they make human mistakes (stooo-pid hooo-mons!). One of these mistakes has risen up as I read and research to the point of a major annoyance. It feels like every single theory for a mass extinction is turned into a panacea for describing all the mass extinctions of times past. I call these offenses "Yet Another Grand Unified Mass Extinction Theory" or YAGUMET. What it boils down to is the scientists in question want to be known as the guys/gals that figured it all out for everything. Wah-lah! Wave the hands and everything falls into place. Except, it doesn't really work out that way. We have precisely two extinction events that have been solidly backed with data that we can say that we think we have them 'solved[1].' The problem is that both of these major extinctions have very different causes.

Explained Mass Extinctions

The first of the two 'explained' extinctions is the most famous. That would be the KT Extinction or the rock drop that saw the dinosaurs off the dance floor. The evidence is pretty solid to the extreme, Gerta Keller et al notwithstanding (see Stop Dreaming...), that the Chixiculub Crater is the grave marker for the end of the Mesozoic Era and the beginning of the rise of the mammals. There are some details to be worked out, but it appears that there was a nasty cold and darkness snap combined with the direct impact effects that would see the dinosaurs off. Anything that relied on the photosynthetic cycle and had a higher than a certain amount of caloric intake requirements was wiped out for sure with others being less lucky. This whole scenario was brought forward by Alvarez et al and has held sway since for the KT Event as the research grew to support the hypothesis and it made its transition to a solid theory during the 1980s and early 1990s. It's chronicled elsewhere and in quite a bit more detail than I can ever do here. I'll do a post in the future to cover the KT Extinction, but that's for another time. However, I will say that they even believe they know where the asteroid came from that took out the dinos, exactly.

On the other hand, the Permian Extinction (or Permian Triassic Extinction) was even more profound than the one that was first successfully investigated. More types of critters died there than at the KT Boundary. While the KT Extinction saw a massive pulse of life dying, it also saw life recover PDQ. While the actors on the stage were not at all the same as before, there was not a twenty million year recovery phase like at the PT Boundary nor were there multiple pulses of extinctions like the PT Event either. The pattern of dying was rather different than at the KT Event too. The PT Event had the deep water critters getting wiped out first. Then the extinctions crept up from the depths to the shallows and coastlines and from there to the land whereas the KT extinction had the ecologies that were photodependent (like the phytoplankton based ecologies in the shallow marine waters or terrestrial ecologies) go dead all quickly while the deep water ecology was not nearly as brutalized. That would strong suggest that the KT and PT Events had rather different causes. As research has shown in the last five to ten years, this has turned out to be true: the PT Event was caused by the Siberian Traps - flood basalt volcanoes - triggering a nasty, prolonged feedback cycle that munched life in a big way. Read more here.

The problem is that the people investigating the extinctions have gelled into two groups: the vulcanists and the impactists. The vulcanists have proposed that volcanoes and their effects are the root cause for all mass extinctions. The impactists are predictably arguing that bollides - meteors of large size in this case - from space are the root cause of all the mass extinctions. The impactists have gone as far as to claim that every 26 to 30 million years there is another round of impacts that causes another pulse extinctions as per the Periodicity Theory espoused by Raup et al (re Nemesis). It does not appear to be the case, but we'll visit that again another time with another post. In both cases, both sides have argued theirs is the One True Way and that the other is incorrect at best. The most either will concede is that maybe one of the extinctions was caused by the other side's mechanism, but all the rest are their's (Courtillot, most famously, on the vulcanist's side conceding the KT, frex, but maintaining that the rest are volcano victims). Either way, they both maintain that their theory is the Grand Unifying Mass Extinction Theory[2]. For a time, both sides would argue and sort through data to try to make their case, but until recently neither could make a solid case for their extinction mechanism to have caused another of the Big Five mass extinctions. That appears to be the changing.

The Underexplained Mass Extinctions

Recently, I blogged about the Late Triassic Mass Extinction. The science is so fresh and new that the mortar between the bricks is extremely wet. For the moment, it does appear that the vulcanists have a very strong lead in this case. They have a lot of data that signatures of the mass extinction seem to correspond to the LTE being caused by volcanoes run amok, but on a smaller scale than the Permian Extinction. Specifically, it appears that the fissioning of the supercontinent to create the Atlantic was the culprit. Furthermore, the science is very very solid and the evidence for impact has faded very badly as the geochronology of the Late Triassic has been sorted out. However, this work hasn't had the time for the responses that the other two extinctions have had, so I cannot in good faith say that the case is closed. Yet it does appear that a convincingly vulcanism initiated mass extinction at the T/J Boundary would bolster the vulcanists' position, right? Well, uh, there are two other extinctions that are part of the Big Five that ought to be considered. One does have a cause that appears to be agreed on and the other is just a mess. Neither fits either of the GAMETS!

The one that is the mess is the Late Devonian Mass Extinction. Wignall and Hallam called it 'one damned thing after another.' There were three pulses. At the middle and nastiest pulse was the so-called Frasnian/Famennian Boundary. Interestingly, there happens to be a crater smack in the middle of this. At the same time, there's evidence of anoxia in the oceans. That would be a symptom of warm temperatures which are in turn a symptom of rampant vulcanism. There was also a flood basalt eruption around that tiume period according to Courtillot. The multi-pulse extinctions, as superficially appears here, seems to hint that this might be tied to those eruptions. However, there's evidence for glaciation which might be related to the evolution of trees. Hallam and Wignall point of that a combination of regression and then transgression of the oceans...which may or may not be related to the glaciation. Or vulcanism. Ward puts forward the idea that its all hypoxia's fault and its even responsible for Romer's Gap. Right now, there's no real clear theory that can explain the situation as we understand it during the LDME. More research needs to be done. A lot more. To make matters worse, there is one really serious problem with studying the LDME: the geochronology of the whole Period is royally frakked up. Van Valen, in a somewhat dated quote, stated "The Late Devonian extinction is one where not even the major facts are agreed on yet." Until they are, the timing of various events are going to be extremely difficult to pull together for a sound theory of what happened. That said, what evidence that is available is not terribly clear.

So at this point we have a clear meteor strike, one clear vulcansim, one probable vulcanism, and one mass extinction that's up in the air. That's not terribly conclusive for any one theory and would cast doubt, at least in my mind about any single theory having a preeminent position to explain all mass extinctions. If what has been highlighted so far should raise the doubts, what is going to written about next ought to cast serious doubt about this position for any of the previous theories being all encompassing.

The Rebel (with a cause) Extinction

There is one more mass extinction in the so-called Big Five. It is the Ordovician Mass Extinction. I have to admit that to me this is the least interesting extinction. It was a time when the ecologies of the world were restricted almost exclusively to the marine or other aquatic environments and, personally, I find that the terrestrial environment is far, far more interesting. That said, there is a fascinating and completely unexpected twist to the extinction causes: the consensus among the workers in the field that are concentrating on the Ordovician Extinction is that it was not a meteor nor volcanic eruption. It was caused by loss of habitat due to glaciation. Both the impactists and the vulcanists have tried to claim that this was caused by their preferred method, but the evidence isn't there. The method of mass death by vulcanism is through global warming, anoxia, and hydrogen sulfide poisoning with a good sterilizing blast of UV radiation. To make matters worse, the geochemical evidence isn't in favor of a volcano run amok either. Impacts kill with cold snaps, even months long ones with accompanying - global - darkness. However, based on the KT Extinction, it doesn't trigger an ice age whatsoever. That would mean there would have had to have been a string of timely impacts that would alter the climate on a prolonged period...which is highly unlikely. Unfortunately the for impact folks, there's no evidence of such at the Ordovician's end. What does this mean? It means that all the work done on the Ordovician Mass Extinction to date contradicts the idea that one theory with exceptions can explain all mass extinctions: this one was caused by a rapid change in climate from a warm period to a cold period and back again: this was due to the loss of the shallow water habitats and when they were regained, the anoxic/hypoxic waters flooding them.

To Live and Die in the Phanerozoic

If we were to take what we know about the Big Five Mass Extinctions and take the latest research as solid enough for us to call what they've theorized with strong backing evidence, it appears that there is no single theory that can be used to cover all the events with an exception here or there at this point. There would be only two extinctions right now with a common cause: the Permian and the Late Triassic seem to be united by vulcanism. The KT was bollide induced. The Ordovician seems to have glacier/climate changes as its root cause. Finally, the Devonian is up in the air. From what it looks like there it could be multiple reasons: Erwin's Midnight Express raises it's ugly head again. However the research is underway there and hopefully in ten years we'll have some better information.

There are still a host of lesser mass extinctions that need explaining. It's quite likely that those extinctions will have been caused by one of the three explanations that have been seen here: meteor, glacier, & lava if you will[3], something of a mass casualty paper-rock-scissors "game." Those extinctions need to be looked at in detail. Carefully. Meticulously. Then, when the data has been compiled, and the profiles compared to the baselines, then their causes can be figured out. It is not until then that we will really be able to say what killed what when and how much. Most likely nothing will come out as the dominant killer. There are simply too many ways to wipe out life on a grand scale. Wishing and throwing temper tantrums that your way is the right way for everything is a bad case of Teh Stoopid.

As I have said before, mass extinctions are not events that you can simply graft your favorite theory onto for their cause. Even if the timing is approximately right your an event you think might have caused the extinction you still have to go back and check all the other data besides the timing (see Stop Dreaming again). Mass extinctions are perfect storms. They have to be the right perfect storms though. I said it before and now let me do a bit more of a generalization: these "baseline" extinctions - the Ordovician, Cretaceous, and Permian - all three affected different organisms in different ways. Trying to pound them into the wrong shaped hole is a waste of time. Instead of becoming zealous advocates and fighting resource wasting sometimes personality driven wars, it would be far better if scientists would move over to the idea that there are diagnostic characteristics for different ways of killing off organisms in large batches. Use those, forgive me, checklists to rule out or confirm a theory. The "checklist" happen to be more than merely whether or not there was a crater or a large scale basalt eruption that is geochronologically convenient.

One of the really nice aspects about moving to the checklist instead of espousing Yet Another Grand Unified Mass Extinction Theory is that there's always the possibility that the extinction event will be because of something new, something that doesn't fit a lava-meteor-glacier profile and you will have been able to make a case for something unique very, very quickly because you are approaching it from an unbiased position instead of a "I'm out to prove theory X!" one. To me, at least, a lot more credibility is to be found there.

So, please, please, please, PLEASE, can we render the YAGUMET extinct?

(that almost needs a blink tag)

There's no ONE TRUE WAY to kill to cause a mass extinction.

1. There are guerrillas in both cases waging what looks like a lost cause. However, science isn't the march of armies and the logistics are not the ones that the militaria types have to worry about, it still remotely possible the guerrillas in the proverbial paleontology hills will come out on top. It's probably less than a 2% chance, but it's still there.

2. To be fair there are other contenders for YAGUMETs. One of those is that the sun's orbit around the galactic plane goes up above and below the disk. Claims have been made that when this happens, life takes it in the shorts. It could be that there is a lot more radiation and that life gets killed off by this mechanism. The problem is that at least to date, there's no support for this in the isotope ratios to date. Another candidate is climate change. There are more.

3. There's another cause, too, but we'll get to that after I do the KT Extinction post. It's more controversial than most. With good reason.

55 Cancri Gets a 5th the Habitable Zone

A team of American astronomers announced today (Tuesday, Nov. 6) the discovery of a record-breaking fifth planet around the nearby star 55 Cancri, making it the only star aside from the sun known to have five planets.

The discovery comes after 19 years of observations of 55 Cancri and represents a milestone for the California and Carnegie Planet Search team, which this year celebrates the 20th anniversary of its first attempts to find extrasolar planets by analyzing the wobbles they cause in their host star.

The team's long history of measurements - more than 300 for 55 Cancri alone - made the discovery of a five-planet system possible, said UC Berkeley astronomy professor Geoffrey Marcy, who with Paul Butler, now at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, began observations of many nearby stars at the University of California Lick Observatory in 1987.

The unique 55 Cancri system, located 41 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Cancer, is notable also because its clutch of four inner planets and one giant outer planet resembles our own solar system, though without an Earth or Mars.

"This system is interesting because there's a giant planet at 6 AU and four smaller planets inward of 0.8 AU, with a huge remaining gap in between, right where we would expect to find an Earth-sized planet," Marcy said.

An AU, or astronomical unit, is the average distance between the Earth and the sun, about 93 million miles.

According to lead author Debra Fischer, assistant professor of astronomy at San Francisco State University, the fifth planet is within the star's habitable zone in which water could exist as a liquid. Though the planet is a giant ball of gas, liquid water could exist on the surface of a moon or on other, rocky planets that may yet be found within the zone. "Right now, we are looking at a gap between the 260-day orbit of the new planet and the 14-year orbit of another gas giant, and if you had to bet, you'd bet that there is more orbiting stuff there."

Fischer noted that what occupies this gap has to be another planet around the size of Neptune or smaller, because anything larger would have destabilized the orbits of the other planets. All of the planets around 55 Cancri are in stable, nearly circular obits, like the eight planets in our solar system. Jupiter is located at 5.2 AU from the sun, while Mercury and Venus are closer than 0.72 AU. Earth and Mars are in the gap at 1 AU and 1.5 AU.

"We haven't found a twin of our solar system, because the four planets close to the star are all the size of Neptune or bigger," Marcy said, but he added that he's optimistic that continued observations will reveal a rocky planet within five years.

The new discovery, using data from the Lick Observatory and the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. The authors are Fischer, Marcy and their colleagues at the Carnegie Institution, San Francisco State University, UC Santa Cruz, Tennessee State University and UC Berkeley.

Fischer and Marcy also discussed their findings today during a media teleconference hosted by NASA.

Here's the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia's entry on 55 Cancri. All updated with 55 Cancri f t'boot.

Ukraine's Brain Dead Orange Coalition

Friday, November 2, was the last day that the Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defense (NUNS) bloc could collect signatures to support a “democratic” (orange) coalition with the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT). BYuT deputies have openly expressed their fear that disunity in NUNS will lead to an unstable orange coalition and a political crisis in 2008.

By last Friday, 69 of the 72 NUNS deputies had signed. The fact that three deputies have not signed is significant. As the orange coalition only has a slim majority of 228 deputies (156 BYuT + 72 NUNS) in the 450-seat Rada, a parliamentary motion for Tymoshenko to become prime minister would fail if the trio sat out.

The three absentees are National Security and Defense Council (NRBO) secretary Ivan Pliushch and two deputies from Trans-Carpathia, the only district NUNS won in the September 30 elections. The two—Ihor Kril and Vasyl Petiovka—are allies of the head of the presidential secretariat, Viktor Baloga, himself a native of Trans-Carpathia.

This situation is yet another indicator that NUNS would be an unstable partner in either the planned orange coalition or a theoretical grand coalition with the rival Party of Regions.


Although personal, economic, and ideological conflicts serve to dampen these groups’ support for Tymoshenko, gender cannot be ignored as an additional factor. Antipathy toward Tymoshenko from the president and within NUNS is also a product of unreformed gender relations inherited from the Soviet era.

If Tymoshenko is not elected prime minister, the resulting political turmoil would likely plunge Ukraine into crisis, as new elections could not be held for one year. For Yushchenko it is better to have Tymoshenko inside the government than her leading the opposition from the outside and launching what she has termed as “Plan B” —her presidential candidacy.

Dear LORD. What the frak are these dipshibbits thinking?!

Actually, after my furious initial reaction, I suspect that I know. I hope I am wrong. I keep telling my wife that you should never attribute malice when stupidity is the more likely suspect. However, that fits the American cultural paradigm, not a xSoviet one. Malice is far more likely to be involved here.

The Party of Regions is bribing, in one form or another, the 3 members of NUNS that are holding out. My bet is that this is Yanukovich's plan to keep the Prime Minister post by making the others unable to form a government. His promises to the parliamentarians are probably empty words, as my wife would say, in that he never intends on delivering anything other than perhaps some cash. He almost assuredly just wants to keep things a mess for another year, sit back and let the Orangers play fratricide and then when its constitutionally allowed, call elections (hmm, seems more an Italian strategy than Slavic, ahem). At that time he'll point to the Orangers incompetence and try to clean up in the election.


On a slightly different note, our friend, Anatoly, who is a member of the Party of Regions formerly in Gorlovka, has made the leap to Kiev as some sort of ecology department member. We're kinda scratching our heads over this one since he's an expolice chief. I suppose he has some experience in the natural gas industry since he had at least some stations that sold it for automotive use.

Another Scary Real Estate Chart

H/T Socketsite.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Walk Like a Turkey

The earliest birds acted more like turkeys than common cuckoos, according to a new report in the November 6th issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press. By comparing the claw curvatures of ancient and modern birds, the researchers provide new evidence that the evolutionary ancestors of birds primarily made their livings on the ground rather than in trees.

“The claws of Mesozoic birds and their immediate ancestors, the non-avian theropods, are relatively ‘straight’—most like [those] of birds that are now either specialized for walking on the ground or have a preference for it, rather than the highly curved claws of birds that spend a lot of time in trees,” said Christopher Glen of the University of Queensland. “We were particularly surprised by the fact that all the fossil species, representing evolutionary lineages from non-flying ancestors to early flying birds, had claws more like modern birds that spend most of their time on the ground.”

The origin and early evolution of birds has long been a major topic of debate in evolutionary biology, the researchers said. Throughout the 20th century, the issue was generally polarized into those who argued that birds had a ground-based ancestor and those who believed birds evolved from an arboreal ancestor, a “false dichotomy that has hindered progress in the field,” they continued.

In the new study, Glen and his colleagues suggest that part of the problem is the loose categorization of many living bird species as either ground- or tree-dwellers on the basis of their hind limbs when, in reality, these are not mutually exclusive alternatives. Rather, birds exhibit differing degrees of ground- and tree-based behaviors and would be better placed along a continuum according to the proportion of time spent on ground versus tree foraging.

To test the idea, Glen’s group first analyzed the toe claws of 249 species of recent birds, revealing that their claw curvatures increase, becoming more hooked, as tree foraging becomes more predominant. They then compared the claw curvatures of modern birds to those of the fossilized ancestors of birds.

“In summary,” they concluded, “since claw angle is independent of body size and the evolutionary relationships among species, it is a reliable indicator of the predominant behavior reliant upon hind-limb locomotion, and can make an important contribution to reconstructing the ‘ecomorphology’ of fossil species—how they lived and used their environments. Our findings suggest early birds foraged predominantly on the ground, rather than supporting previous suggestions of arboreal claw adaptations, which appear to have evolved later in the lineage.”

Leaper? Not glider? Makes sense since the birds are derived theropods.

(that's the whole article, btw, and they didn't list where they'd be publishing this, Zach.)

RANT: Very Soon This Will NOT Be a Supercomputer

This is seaborg. It's an IBM SP3 with 16 way nighthawk2 processor nodes - that is each node has 16 processors - and there are a total of 414 nodes. Currently it is ranked 158th on the Top500 list of supercomputers. At one time it was #2, iirc. We are getting set to retire this NERSC workhorse. We have newer and shinier toys. It was named for Glenn Seaborg.

seaborg and I have a special relationship. When I go on rotation, it has serious issues. I don't even have to go login for it to freak out: within hours of me going on rotation, it'll just do its thing. Once it had three system wide outages in four days. I think that the damned thing has Munchhausen Syndrome. It became the vernacular around here that if seaborg crashed, I hugged it. In fact, I once pulled a prank on a coworker by having the operations group page her stating exactly those words: Will Hugged Seaborg (see the byebye to Tavia post). It even got noticed at IBM and they'd grumble if there was some way to get me off rotation just so their up time figures - a critical benchmark for contractual reasons for them and important to us and our users for other reasons - would stay higher. In a way, I am going to miss that big turkey. Then again, all the extra sleep I am going to get is going to more than offset that. ;)

I bring this all up because quite soon, seaborg will no longer be considered a supercomputer. You might be scratching your head at that. Let me throw you for another loop: that Cray right there is not a supercomputer either. Huh? It was. It isn't now. isn't a supercomputer, a, well, supercomputer? No, not really. Supercomputing, or High Performance Computing (HPC), is a moving target. Right now, to get on the Top500 list at all you have to be able to do a sustained 4 teraflops using the Linpack benchmark. Seaborg does a sustained 7 TFs. Very soon it will fall off the bottom end of the list. So what, you say, how does that not make it a supercomputer? A supercomputer is one of the fastest computers on the planet, or so goes the general definition. If its not one of the fastest computers, its not a supercomputer. Right? Sometimes people talk about the top x percent of computers performance wise. That's silly. There's millions of computers and yet very few are HPC machines, much less than a percent. For better or worse, a working definition is if you can get on the Top500 list, you're an HPC system. That also means that the definition moves. The fastest machines make it onto the top and push off those at the bottom. The minimum score keeps going up. A Cray-1 is slower than your desktop if its new. The only way that its comparable to your desktop even is that its memory subsystem is approximately as quick ( a bit sad, that, but...) So if you were to take your desktop back to 1975, you'd have a screaming #1 computing platform in the world.

Now, the reason I bring this up is that I am constantly bombarded in the IT world with companies claiming to have a supercomputer in a box. Or the most recent two that prompted me to write the post are here and here. 25 gigaflops would have been a screamer in the early 1990s. It's not even 1% - ONE PERCENT - of what's needed to make the cut now. That's not a supercomputer. Hell, a couple servers will outrip that thing. The second press release is another one that makes me roll my eyes: there have been multiple technologies that have come and gone that have promised TEH WAY DUDE for HPC. Most are corpses or fossils that litter our path. We'll see if the good professor's tech works out, until then wait and see. However, if its hand held, I doubt it'll be considered a supercomputer at the time its actually built. All I'd have to do is string together 256 of them or find some way to use that $tech in a way that won't work handheld get the point.

Technology is constantly changing. Supercomputers are not like PCs. An Intel 386 based PC from circa the late 1980s is still a PC. A sucky one, but still a PC. A Cray-1 is not a supercomputer any longer. Seaborg won't be one quite soon too. So can we dispense with using supercomputer as an indicator of how stupid your marketing department is? just because your toy in your hand can out perform the greatest, fastest thing of the 1970s or even 1980s or whatever that isn't current, does NOT make it a supercomputer.

Ok. Incoherent rant over. ;)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Maybe China's Economy isn't so Hunky-Dory After All?

Amid widespread shortages, service stations allow drivers just a few quarts at a time, forcing buses to stop repeatedly to fill up while passengers fume, said Dai Guowei, an employee of the Zhaoshang Passenger Transport Co.

"After using up the diesel from the last filling station, we have to rush to another station," Dai said Friday. "Usually we have to wait at least a half-hour to fill up. So we get a lot of customer complaints."

Companies across China are hurting amid diesel shortages blamed on price controls that force oil refiners to lose money on each barrel they process. That's prompted them to cut back on production.

The government raised prices Thursday by nearly 10 percent to curb demand and encourage refiners to produce more. But it gave no sign it will change what analysts say is the root of the problem: an antiquated system of state-set prices that encourages waste and distorts business decisions by oil suppliers.

"I don't think this is the start of a new trend. I think it's just a small adjustment," said Steven Knell, an oil industry analyst in London for consulting firm Global Insight.

China's problem is self-inflicted. After three decades of economic reforms, Beijing still sets one-third of prices, including the price of electric power, gasoline and cooking oil. But that clashes with the free-market reality of China's oil refiners, which must pay record-high prices for crude on the world market.

The fuel shortages have hit trucking companies hard, disrupting their service and delaying deliveries.

This week's fuel price hike was the first granted by regulators in 18 months. They had rejected refiners' appeals to be allowed to pass on high crude costs to consumers, citing a need to protect China's poor, who have seen a sharp rise in food prices, particularly pork, the country's staple meat.


Economists say the impact of the fuel shortages on China's trade-dependent economy is unclear, and will depend on how long they persist.

Customers and some Chinese media accused oil producers this week of creating a phony crisis to force Beijing to raise prices.

China's No. 2 oil company and biggest refiner, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., known as Sinopec, defended its efforts to meet demand and promised to import fuel in November.

It was unclear whether Thursday's price hike would be big enough to restore refiners to profitability or pay for them to invest in new processing capacity.

China faced a similar pinch last year and Beijing prodded Sinopec and the country's biggest oil producer, China National Petroleum Corp., to supply more fuel, rewarding them with a tax rebate.

We might bitch about high prices, but we're not getting that screwed relatively: there are no shortages. gack. Oughts are China's 1970s? hmmm. This is largely self induced. yet at the same time there is the issue that building more refineries takes years and the demand is rising PDQ...hmmm. Anyone ever thought through China has a hyper inflationary period scenario?

Brit Invisi-Tanks

Or should this be:

British really KLINGONS!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Flying Lemurs Are Primates' Closest Kin

A new genetic study claims to have settled a long-standing debate about which living group of mammals is most closely related to primates, which include monkeys, apes, and lemurs.

Our nearest nonprimate relatives are not tree shrews as once thought, researchers say—but another group of tree-dwelling mammals known as colugos, also known as flying lemurs.

Colugos are squirrel-size creatures that live in the rain forests of Southeast Asia. Only two species are known to exist.

Like flying squirrels, colugos have a wide membrane of skin between their limbs that, when fully extended, forms a kind of sail—allowing the animals to glide from tree to tree.

Previous DNA-based studies had suggested that primates, tree shrews, and colugos are closely related, forming a single evolutionary grouping that can be traced back to a common ancestral species.

But experts have continued to debate when and in what order the three groups diverged from one another.

The new study finds that the ancestors of tree shrews split off first, and then the primate and colugo lineages diverged. That means that colugos are primates' closest evolutionary cousins.

"Our molecular trees indicate that [primates and colugos] split approximately 86 million years ago, more than 30 million years before modern primates or colugos appear in the fossil record," said study co-author William Murphy.

Interesting. The roots of modern primates are rather deep. The split between them 86 million years ago. In the Cretaceous.

Now THAT'S a supercomputer

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Cray Inc. (NASDAQ: CRAY) today announced the successful completion of the acceptance test of one of the world's largest supercomputers. Installed at the DOE's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), the powerful Cray XT4 (TM) system contains nearly 20,000 processor cores and has a top processing speed of more than 100 teraflops.

The next-generation supercomputer will be used to advance a broad range of scientific research. Named "Franklin" in honor of the first internationally recognized American scientist, Benjamin Franklin, the Cray XT4 system enables researchers to tackle the most challenging problems in science by conducting more frequent and increasingly detailed simulations and analyses of massive sets of data.

"With Franklin, we are increasing the computational power available to our 2,900 NERSC users by a factor of six, providing them with access to one of the world's fastest supercomputers dedicated to open scientific research," said Michael Strayer, associate director of DOE's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research, which funds NERSC. "We have high expectations that NERSC's proven track record of scientific productivity will provide many new discoveries and understandings."

The highly scalable Cray XT4 system is capable of running applications across a wide range of scientific disciplines, including astrophysics, fusion, climate change prediction, combustion, energy and biology. Franklin will enable researchers at Berkeley Lab to address such problems as developing better models of the Earth's climate and using it to predict the impact of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming. The powerful system will also allow researchers to explore clean energy technologies and validate theories that attempt to uncover evidence that explains the origin of the universe.

"Our new Cray XT4 system has demonstrated that it can deliver a high sustained performance on a demanding scientific workload in a rigorous production environment while at the same time permitting users to explore scaling to nearly 20,000 cores," said Horst Simon, director of the NERSC Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "We are particularly proud of the strong partnership between NERSC and Cray. Beginning more than a year ago, we jointly defined design requirements then tested and validated a Linux operating environment for Franklin and ultimately Cray's entire XT product line that will be available to our vast community of users. We were pleased to be part of such a landmark accomplishment -- the first true light-weight Linux kernel for HPC systems."

Franklin has a theoretical peak speed in excess of 100 teraflops (100 trillion floating point operations per second). In assessing proposed systems, the Cray XT4 scalable architecture promised to deliver high sustained performance, which is critical to NERSC's 24x7 operation to meet users' supercomputing demands.


Franklin contains 9,672 AMD dual-core Opteron(TM) 2.6 GHz processors with 39 terabytes of memory. Running on 16,384 processor cores, the group was able to complete the run in just 45 minutes.

Now I get to help care and feed it.

The Democratic Debate

Very disappointing.

Clinton couldn't give a straight answer if she tried.

That illegal immigrant driver's license issue is going to bite her. It'll be interesting to watch.