Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Got Blue Eyes? HEY CUZ!

New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

What is the genetic mutation

“Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch”, which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes”. The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch”, which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris – effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue. The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour – a condition known as albinism.

Limited genetic variation

Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.

Professor Eiberg and his team examined mitochondrial DNA and compared the eye colour of blue-eyed individuals in countries as diverse as Jordan, Denmark and Turkey. His findings are the latest in a decade of genetic research, which began in 1996, when Professor Eiberg first implicated the OCA2 gene as being responsible for eye colour.

hrm. I wonder if there are populations that were not included. After all not all blondes are from Europeans...

Two More Down

This is a post of delight and dismay.

First off, John Edwards has officially bowed out of the race for President. This is to my great dismay. Of the three standing Democrats, I actually liked him the best. Lyuda did too for that matter. The sad part is that I had just convinced a friend that could vote in the Democratic primary here in Cali to do so. Yesterday.

Secondly, about Guiliani, all I can say is pwnd! WOOOOOOOOO! He creeped me out a bit. Not sure why, but he did. Rumor is that he will drop out today. Why in the world he ran his campaign that way, I cannot understand. I see the "logical" of skipping the unimportant objectives in terms of delegates, but dear lord, what was he thinking in the day and age of constant news streaming?! Geez. T3h 3v1L understood this better than Guiliani did.

I'll be waiting to see what the polls are like here in Cali.

USN's 10 Mj Railgun Testbed

Hat-tip to Danger Room.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Another Contender For The Race to Bio-Hydrogen

For most people, the name “E. coli” is synonymous with food poisoning and product recalls, but a professor in Texas A&M University’s chemical engineering department envisions the bacteria as a future source of energy, helping to power our cars, homes and more.

By genetically modifying the bacteria, Thomas Wood, a professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, has “tweaked” a strain of E. coli so that it produces substantial amounts of hydrogen. Specifically, Wood’s strain produces 140 times more hydrogen than is created in a naturally occurring process, according to an article in “Microbial Biotechnology,” detailing his research.

Though Wood acknowledges that there is still much work to be done before his research translates into any kind of commercial application, his initial success could prove to be a significant stepping stone on the path to the hydrogen-based economy that many believe is in this country’s future.

Renewable, clean and efficient, hydrogen is the key ingredient in fuel-cell technology, which has the potential to power everything from portable electronics to automobiles and even entire power plants. Today, most of the hydrogen produced globally is created by a process known as “cracking water” through which hydrogen is separated from the oxygen. But the process is expensive and requires vast amounts of energy – one of the chief reasons why the technology has yet to catch on.

Wood’s work with E. coli could change that.

His process converts sugar. Cellulose would be better, IMO.

New Mexico Spaceport News

New Mexico's Spaceport America, which is being billed as the first "purpose-built" commercial spaceport in the United States, must conquer some challenging milestones that lie ahead if it is to open in late 2009 or early 2010.

The $198 million New Mexico spaceport project will have an 18,000 acre footprint that covers open, generally level range land north of Las Cruces and east of Truth or Consequences. This area was favored for its low population density, uncongested airspace and high elevation.

The spaceport is being designed to support a variety of commercial space businesses. It is intended to serve not only as a hub for the emerging suborbital space tourism market, but also eventually to become a center for handling orbital launch.

Steven Landeene, the newly appointed executive director for Spaceport America, settled into his new post Jan. 7 after his hiring in early December by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority Board.

It is clear that Landeene has hit the ground running — and needs to.

They have been talking about the space port in NM for a looooong time. This goes back to the mid to early 1990s, actually. I'm watching in an interested fashion if they can actually pull off the successful funding of this. It would be great if they can add yet another high tech center there in the desert. NM has a fascinating mix of the very high tech - Los Alamos, Sandia, White Sands, etc - and agricultural - cattle ranching, pecans, and most importantly CHILES!

I really miss it.

Please, Someone Get Industrial Strength Cleaners!

He called for increasing the use of "renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power," while calling for investments in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels for cars and trucks in the future.

"Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources," said the president.

"And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases," Bush said.

"This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride," he added.

I agree with Shrubbish on something! QUICK! HOSE ME DOWN! I FEEL DIRTY!

(actually, I agree with him more than that, but he's a toad and an idiot that is going to go down as a really, really bad president in the history books).

A Bit of Retrovirus News

“Over the course of evolution, retroviruses have invaded the germ-line of our ancestors on numerous occasions. Now, human ERVs (HERVs) make up around 8% of our genome,” say Dr David Griffiths from the Moredun Research Institute and Cécile Voisset from the Faculté de Médecine et des Sciences de la Santé in France.

Wow. I knew they were in there, but the fact that they make up almost 10% of the genome is pretty profound (to me). Could it have been a virus that was inserted into the germline that helped to cause us to speciate from the rest of the great apes? Is HIV attempting to add itself permanently to our genome? That's a disturbing thought.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Light in the Dark: Introducing the Coherent Lighthouse

I am adding Scott E's Coherent Lighthouse to the paleo section of my blogroll. I rather like the artwork and the commentary he has up. I recommend a stop there for a general perusal. Tis good stuff in there!

BTW, what is it with Alaskans and paleo stuff anyway? Can't go outside for too many days out of the year or sumtin? ;)

Chameleon 2 Chameleon: Did You Get That, Buddy?

Chameleons evolved their famous skin-altering abilities not for camouflage but to communicate quickly with others, a new study suggests.

Scientists have known that the reptiles use color-changing for a variety of purposes: to blend in to the environment, to regulate their body heat, and to send messages to other chameleons.

Instead of vocalizing or using pheromones, chameleons communicate visually by changing the colors and patterns of their skin. Different colors and patterns mean different things—similar to how the colors of a traffic light direct drivers.

For example, the brighter colors a male displays, the more dominant he is. So male chameleons can attract a mate or defend their territory by flashing bright colors to each other. To communicate submission or surrender, a male will display drab browns and grays.

Females also use a colorful version of signaling to communicate when they want to reject mates or are pregnant.

But how these traits evolved remained a mystery—until now.

Cephalopods and chameleons. Talk about convergent evolution!

Russia Makes Growling Noise Over Kosovo

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia warned the United States and European Union on Monday that it would take a series of unidentified measures if Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence.

Russia's Kosovo negotiator, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, declined to give any details about the steps, but said a recognition of Kosovo's independence by the West would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe in the province.

When asked if Russia had a plan of action if Kosovo declared independence, he said: "Yes, Russia's Foreign Ministry has prepared a whole host of steps and measures. These measures fully accord to our position on independence for Kosovo."

Threat or bluff? Does the Putin Bear have teeth? Or is it all growl and no bite?

The End of Canada's Space Program?

Imagine getting news that the space operations of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, including the shuttle and military space programs, had been sold to a corporation based in Europe. Imagine further that this startling news is followed the next day by the announcement that the administrator of NASA has suddenly resigned after just a few months on the job.

While such a scenario is unlikely, a string of events of similar magnitude has just rocked Canada’s space program, throwing into question the basic assumptions that have guided it for most of its 50-year history.

On January 8, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada’s largest space contractor, announced that it was selling all of its space operations to Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) of Edina, Minnesota, for $1.3 billion. MDA is the corporate home of the shuttle remote manipulator system, known as the Canadarm, the ISS Mobile Servicing System, including Canadarm2, and much of Canada’s communications satellite contracting work. More controversially, MDA operates the recently launched RADARSAT-2 under a joint agreement with the Canadian government.

The following day, the Canadian government announced that the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Laurier Boisvert, had resigned a few days earlier after just nine months on the job. Although the resignation was said to be due to personal reasons, speculation has suggested that it was related to the MDA sale.

If the sale is approved by shareholders and Canadian and American regulators, the core of Canada’s space business, supported by massive investments by the Canadian government going back to the early 1960s, will be under the control of an American corporation. While other Canadian space contractors continue to operate, notably Com Dev International of Cambridge, Ontario, the MDA sale encompasses the core of Canada’s space expertise.

Although Canada’s business-friendly Conservative federal government has remained quiet about the sale, leading members of Canada’s largest opposition party, the Liberal Party, have questioned the sale. Among them is Marc Garneau, Canada’s first astronaut and a former CSA president who is now a Liberal candidate in the next federal election, which could take place as early as this spring. The sale is also drawing fire from Canadian trade unionists and from peace activists, who are concerned about ATK’s role as a manufacturer of land mines and other arms.


If the MDA sale and the end of the shuttle program mark the effective end of Canada’s space program, much of the blame must go to the Liberal government that left office two years ago, which ignored calls by Garneau, then CSA’s president, for innovative policies that would have increased Canada’s role in Mars exploration, and the current Conservative government that continued the previous government’s neglect of space policy. The Canadian government needs to act soon to save Canada’s space program.

It would be a sad day if the Canucks left the space race to we Yanks. tsk. Such...slackers.

A bit more seriously, it is amusing that the Liberals, whom the author blames for the situation, are the ones complaining the loudest though. Ah, politics, thy odor is....hmmm...sweet is not quite the word...perhaps ironic is it. though I have never smelled something ironic before.

ObSnark: Now I am waiting for the inevitable comparisons to the Avro Arrow. 3....2....1....

Inez Fung Offers Weekly Seminar on the Physical Science of Climate Change

Inez Fung will be teaching EPS 290, Climate Change Science, on Tuesdays this semester from 2–4 pm in 401 McCone Hall. The course will read and discuss “Climate Change 2007 — The Physical Science Basis: Contribution of Working Group I to the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC.” For the schedule, email ifung at berkeley dot edu.

If you have a chance and are in the area, I really recommend that you attend this one. She's one of the leading experts in the area...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Boneyard XII

Welcome to the Twelfth Edition of the Bone Yard Paleontology Carnival! This is the first time that The Dragon's Tales is hosting it, but I have contributed a few times in the past myself. This time around we have quite a mix of the regulars and newbies. I am going to follow the convention here the posts on the different time periods are going to be organized in the way we would dig down: more recent geological periods on top!

Our first stop is John Hawks' quick commentary about a recent find of a cranium in China. this is a poorly represented period and is very excited about what it might mean.

Our next stop is a scathing rebuttal of whether or not a cometary impact or megatsunami was the source of megafauna extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene brought to us by Mike Taylor's Paleoblog and my own The Dragon's Tales.

Back in the Pliocene, Brian famously of Laelaps discusses Buttercup and Wesley's oversized South American Pliocene nightmare of a nemesis: Josephoartigasia monesi. This hippo seized rodent graced South America none too long ago and for any elephant must have been frightening indeed.

Jumping back to the end of the Mesozoic Era, Paleoblog and The Dragon's Tales both blogged about the Chicxulub impact paper that recently came out.

The ever popular Mesozoic had a lot of posts this go around. Scott E of Coherent Lighthouse showcased some of his artwork from Dinosauria exposition.

Real Climate, a climatology blog, has a critique of the recent paper on the evidence for Cretaceous glaciers.

Julia of The Ethical Paleontologist and Darren of Tetrapod Zoology both blogged (here and here respectively) about the teenage pregnancies of T Rex. Each has their own interesting point of view and I recommend reading each with their unique commentary.

Mark Witton talks about the overexaggeration of pterosaur size and posts a gorgeous original picture to go with it.

Zach Miller of When Pigs Fly Returns posts a fascinating discourse on the feeding strategies of the sail-backed theropods we know and love as the spinosaurs.

The ever prolific Mike Taylor gives a wonderful post on the flight model for early theropods and how modern birds and their experiences in learning to fly make for a good guide.

The stunning team that runs the Sauropod Picture of the Week has been a busy set of bees. They have several posts up in the past two weeks: they cover a tutorial on Neurocentral Fusion, Mamenchisaurus, Hudiesaurus, and Futalognkosaurus. Prolific, guys, prolific.

Then back into the Triassic we have a girl after my own heart. Or rather her research is. Sarda Sahney of Fish Feet graces us with a post her own paper about the recovery - or lack there of - from the Permian-Triassic Mass Extinction.

Dealing more with mass extinctions is Carl Zimmer of The Loom with his post on his lecture at the Rome Festival of Science and an interview with one of the "rockstars of mass extinctions" Dr Peter Ward.

Jumping back into the early evolution of insects, Carlos Yu of Halfway Down the Danube makes his polymathic debut on the paleo blog circuit. He gives a fascinating - and new to me - discussion of insects use and possible origination of trehalose.

Diving back further in Deep Time, Chris Taylor of Catalogue of Organisms talks about the armored worms of the Cambrian, Machaeridians, and ludicrous lobopods.

Rounding it all out is Brian of Laelaps giving us a run down of general Paleo news.

Unfortunately, I didn't get my own planned contribution on Permian Terrestrial Ecology done this week. I am on rotation and have an anthropocene T rex of my own to take care of. I hope you enjoyed the Bone Yard XII and in two weeks it will be making an appearance at Greg Laden's place. Until then, fossil on, dude!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Fault Under Adriatic

(image Credit: National Geographic)
A newly identified fault running under the Adriatic Sea is building more of Croatia's Dalmatian Islands and bulking up the Dinaric Alps, a new study says.

Both the islands and the mountain chain—which runs along the upper western coast of the Balkan Peninsula—were believed to have stopped growing 20 million to 30 million years ago.

But scientists found that at the new fault the leading edge of the Eurasian tectonic plate is sliding over the South Adria microplate. (See a map of Earth's tectonic plates.)

"The southern Adria microplate is covered by a thick layer of buoyant rocks called carbonates," said lead researcher Richard A. Bennett of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"As the Adria plate moves northeast toward Europe, the carbonate layer is scraped off of the microplate, much like snow in front of a snowplow."

Carbonates get piled up on the seafloor in front of the moving plate, forming new islands. Over millions of years the islands are squeezed together like folds in an accordion, which creates new additions to the nearby Dinaric Alps.

What's more, the fault is causing the southern "boot heel" of Italy to move toward the Croatian coast at a rate of about 0.16 inch (0.4 centimeter) a year, while the Adriatic seafloor is sliding under Croatia.

"If this process continues, eventually the seafloor will be completely consumed, bringing Italy into contact with Croatia," Bennett said.

This scenario means the Adriatic Sea could close up in about 50 million to 70 million years.

In a future world I drafted up once, the Adriatic was a chain of mountains that had very impressive canyons and valleys between then ancient Italy and the Dalmatian coast. I really ought to figure out a way to go back to that scenario and make a story out of it.

Russian Energy Deals Scare Europe

Russia expanded its growing European energy empire Friday, signing two more deals in a drive that is raising fears Moscow could use its vast oil and gas resources to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors.

Russia already supplies a quarter of Europe's natural gas and oil needs, and some Western leaders worry the growing dependence is giving the Kremlin a powerful geopolitical weapon.

Announcing the signing of two agreements with Serbia, Russian officials said the deal would make the poor Balkan nation an important hub for the distribution of Russian gas.

Moscow has been rushing to build or acquire European pipelines, storage facilities, ports and energy companies. But Russian government and corporate officials say the expansion is strictly a commercial effort that benefits both sides and ensures Europe gets the energy it needs.

"This network will be long-lasting, reliable, highly efficient, and what is very important, help boost energy supplies to Serbia and the entire European continent," Russian President Vladimir Putin said after the deals were signed.

Skeptics in Washington and some European capitals say Russia has already used its energy clout as a coercive tool of diplomacy. The U.S. has led an effort to limit its inroads — in part by planning new energy pipelines that would bypass Russian territory.

But there are doubts the alternative pipelines will ever be built, and many analysts say the European Union's quest for energy independence has fizzled.

"I think you can now say that Russia has either won the war or is very close to winning the war" over gas supplies, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib, a Russian investment bank. "Because the EU, which sought non-Russian import routes and non-Russian gas supplies, has failed to achieve anything."

He said fast action by Russia to increase its energy deals has made it difficult for Western countries to organize the huge financial investment needed for rival pipelines.

"The Kremlin moved much more quickly and much more decisively," Weafer said.

Doug covers this in detail more on A Fistful of Euros and so does Randy.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Democrats: Kucinich Dropping Out

Baibai, Elf-dude.

Can you take your Repugnant equivalent with you? Y'know Teh 3v1L?

Cretaceous Glacier Paper Critique

Over at Real Climate they have a critique of the recent paper on the Cretaceous glaciers that I blogged about last week. I suggest that you all go take a look.

Mexican President Might Influence USA Election?

An unexpected factor in the presidential election this year might not come from a primary. Instead, Mexico President Felipe Calderon might play that role. Calderon's mid-February visit to the United States could set the stage.

He is scheduled to meet with immigration reform leaders in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. Calderon will reveal at that time his strategy for approaching policymakers concerning migrant rights. He will also meet with key legislators on the issues. In these encounters, he could become a factor in the U.S. election.

Calderon's U.S. visit comes a week after Super Tuesday, after the primaries in 24 states will have decided more than half of the Democratic and 41 percent of Republican delegates to their nominating conventions. The nominees should be known by then, or at least the field narrowed to the final few.

Interesting. Is it wishful thinking? Or a reality? Thoughts?

Moscow State University Gets Blue Gene/P

Moscow State University (MSU) and IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced details of an agreement to install a Blue Gene/P supercomputer at the Department of Computational Mathematics and Cybernetics. The new supercomputer, the first installation of the world famous Blue Gene computer in Russia, will be used for fundamental research in nanotechnology, new materials and life sciences.

"As Russia's leading academic institution, we are very proud that Moscow State University should join the ranks of the world's leading research organisations to tackle some of the most complex and computer intensive problems known to man-kind -- from astrophysics, to molecular modelling," said Viktor Sadovnichiy, Rector of Moscow State University. "This agreement with IBM heralds a new era of supercomputing in Russia."

Moscow State University has agreed to buy two racks of the Blue Gene/P system containing 8.192 densely packed microprocessors. The resulting supercomputer is expected to run at 27.8 trillion operations per second (Tflop/s), 2,600 times faster than today's fastest home PC. Based on the current list, the MSU system would today be amongst the top 50 most powerful supercomputers in the world.

Good for them. Keep in mind that's a *PEAK* speed of 27.8 teraflops. It's probably a sustained speed of around 10 TFlops, maybe 18 Tflops, on benchmarks and even less - a lot less - on real world codes. Even so, the BG/P's are good systems. It's just a consequence of modern computer tech (and some coding practices) that make this true.

Antarctica's Ice Loss as Bad as Greenland's?

Ice loss in Antarctica increased by 75 percent in the last 10 years due to a speed-up in the flow of its glaciers and is now nearly as great as that observed in Greenland, according to a new, comprehensive study by UC Irvine and NASA scientists.

In a first-of-its-kind study, an international team led by Eric Rignot, professor of Earth system science at UCI and a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., estimated changes in Antarctica’s ice mass between 1996 and 2006 and mapped patterns of ice loss on a glacier-by-glacier basis. They detected a sharp jump in Antarctica’s ice loss, from enough ice to raise global sea level by 0.3 millimeters (.01 inches) a year in 1996, to 0.5 millimeters (.02 inches) a year in 2006.

Rignot said the losses, which were primarily concentrated in West Antarctica’s Pine Island Bay sector and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, are caused by ongoing and past acceleration of glaciers into the sea. This is mostly a result of warmer ocean waters, which bathe the buttressing floating sections of glaciers, causing them to thin or collapse. “Changes in Antarctic glacier flow are having a significant, if not dominant, impact on the mass balance of the Antarctic ice sheet,” he said.

Results of the study are published in February’s issue of Nature Geoscience.

If confirmed, this is really bad news. Greenland is bad enough that its losing ice mass so much, but if Antarctica starts losing as much...oy. "Fortunately," this looks like its restricted to the Peninsula and West Antarctica. If it's happening all over the continent though...

Move away from the coasts, folks, move away...

PS Al Gore says climate change is far worse than anyone imagined. Garsh! Really?!?!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Carbon Tax/Tarriff Would Spark Trade War?

Plans to force importers to pay the same greenhouse gas emission charges as domestic producers could provoke a trade war of retaliation and litigation, officials and lawyers have warned.

The plans, being considered by the US Senate and floated by the European Commission, are intended to prevent production shifting to laxer regimes abroad after countries impose carbon controls. But although supporters argue they will comply with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt), the treaty that underlies the World Trade Organisation, officials and lawyers say that affected countries such as China and India are likely to resort to litigation or retaliation.

Ujal Singh Bhatia, India's ambassador to the WTO, said: "If the countries imposing such measures invoke Gatt provisions to justify them, the dispute settlement mechanism in [the] WTO would face serious challenges and create divisions along North-South lines."

Yes, it will cause something of a backlash or an attempt to evade them: probably through currency manipulation, if I had to guess. However, I really think we ought to implement a carbon tax pronto to start moving the economy away from carbon positive energy sources. You cannot implement a carbon tax without the tarriff: it knee caps your economy in a huge, huge way.

There's only one atmosphere that we all share folks and there's only one planet that humanity lives on, so we really need to act quickly on this. IMNSHO, the carbon tax is one of the best ways.

Russia's New Launch Site?

Russia, whose space programme relies heavily on a base in neighbouring Kazakhstan, is to build its own launch site for manned flights by 2018, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying Wednesday.

The new Vostochny base in the Amur region of southeast Russia, bordering China, will be an alternative to the Baikonur base, a Soviet-built facility that Russia now leases from Kazakhstan.

"To use a military term, we will open a 'second front,'" Ivanov said, Russian news agencies RIA Novosti and Interfax reported.

"By 2016 the new cosmodrome should be ready for rocket launches of any type and by 2018 it is planned that we will also be able to make manned flights from there," Ivanov said.

"It is linked to ensuring our country's independent access to space. In fact we are building not just a special facility in the Amur region, but a true city."

So, not only are they building a new launch site, they are building it in the Far East.

N/M that transporting to and from that area will be a costly nightmare.


Importance of pre-impact crustal structure for the asymmetry of the Chicxulub impact crater

Importance of pre-impact crustal structure for the asymmetry of the Chicxulub impact crater

Sean P. S. Gulick1, Penny J. Barton2, Gail L. Christeson1, Joanna V. Morgan3, Matthew McDonald1,6, Keren Mendoza-Cervantes4, Zulmacristina F. Pearson5,7, Anusha Surendra2, Jaime Urrutia-Fucugauchi4, Peggy M. Vermeesch3,7 & Mike R. Warner3
Top of page

Impact craters are observed on the surfaces of all rocky planets and satellites in our Solar System1; some impacts on Earth, such as the Cretaceous/Tertiary one that formed the Chicxulub impact crater2, 3, have been implicated in mass extinctions4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. The direction and angle of the impact—or its trajectory—is an important determinant of the severity of the consequent environmental damage, both in the downrange direction (direction bolide travels) and in the amount of material that enters the plume of material vaporized on impact2, 13, 14, 15. The trajectory of the Chicxulub impact has previously been inferred largely from asymmetries in the gravity anomalies over the crater2, 3. Here, we use seismic data to image the Chicxulub crater in three dimensions and demonstrate that the strong asymmetry of its subsurface correlates with significant pre-existing undulations on the end-Cretaceous continental shelf that was the site of this impact. These results suggest that for rocky planets, geological and geomorphological heterogeneities at the target site may play an important role in determining impact crater structure, in addition to impact trajectories. In those cases where heterogeneous targets are inferred, deciphering impact trajectories from final crater geometries alone may be difficult and require further data such as the distribution of ejecta.

Acid rain is something that I do believe has largely been discredited as a killing mechanism by and large: far too many of the critters that ought to have been vulernable to acid rain came through just fine (ie the freshwater critters such as amphibians and fish).

Impact Killed the Megafauna Gets Return Fire

Recognition of the importance of impact cratering ranks among the most significant advances in earth and planetary sciences of the twentieth century, but recently there has been a proliferation of reports of impact events and sites that eschew simple, less spectacular alternative explanations. Here we focus on (1) Holocene-age ocean impacts and associated “mega-tsunami,” and (2) a catastrophic impact event suggested at 12.9 ka. Carl Sagan once said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”; we argue that these impacts do not meet that standard.

I am extremely dubious of an impact wiping out the NorAm megafauna, hoenstly, despite tha fact that a number of my coLabbies are convinced (and espouse) the theory. My biggest issue with it is that the megafauna of similar types and stripes, so to speak, didn't just die off in NorAm. It did all over the world. The same species from places other than NorAm went extinct too and at the same time...that's somethng that would argue for a cause other than an impact that limited its effects to NorAm.

More on the Mesozoic Platypus

The oldest platypus and its bearing on divergence timing of the platypus and echidna clades

Timothy Rowe*,{dagger}, Thomas H. Rich{ddagger},§, Patricia Vickers-Rich§, Mark Springer¶, and Michael O. Woodburne||

*Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas, C1100, Austin, TX 78712; {ddagger}Museum Victoria, PO Box 666, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia; §School of Geosciences, PO Box 28E, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia; ¶Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521; and ||Department of Geology, Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, AZ 86001

Edited by David B. Wake, University of California, Berkeley, CA, and approved October 31, 2007 (received for review July 7, 2007)


Monotremes have left a poor fossil record, and paleontology has been virtually mute during two decades of discussion about molecular clock estimates of the timing of divergence between the platypus and echidna clades. We describe evidence from high-resolution x-ray computed tomography indicating that Teinolophos, an Early Cretaceous fossil from Australia's Flat Rocks locality (121–112.5 Ma), lies within the crown clade Monotremata, as a basal platypus. Strict molecular clock estimates of the divergence between platypus and echidnas range from 17 to 80 Ma, but Teinolophos suggests that the two monotreme clades were already distinct in the Early Cretaceous, and that their divergence may predate even the oldest strict molecular estimates by at least 50%. We generated relaxed molecular clock models using three different data sets, but only one yielded a date overlapping with the age of Teinolophos. Morphology suggests that Teinolophos is a platypus in both phylogenetic and ecological aspects, and tends to contradict the popular view of rapid Cenozoic monotreme diversification. Whereas the monotreme fossil record is still sparse and open to interpretation, the new data are consistent with much slower ecological, morphological, and taxonomic diversification rates for monotremes than in their sister taxon, the therian mammals. This alternative view of a deep geological history for monotremes suggests that rate heterogeneities may have affected mammalian evolution in such a way as to defeat strict molecular clock models and to challenge even relaxed molecular clock models when applied to mammalian history at a deep temporal scale.

There are your answers, Zach: paper link above. This is a true platypus...from the Cretaceous of all goodness places. The monotremes seem to be a very old group that didn't follow the same rules as the therians. Fascinating.

California Poll Numbers (again)


Hillary Rodham Clinton, 39 percent

Barack Obama, 27 percent

John Edwards, 10 percent

Undecided, 20 percent


John McCain, 22 percent

Mitt Romney, 18 percent

Rudy Giuliani, 11 percent

Mike Huckabee, 11 percent

Fred Thompson, 9 percent

Ron Paul, 7 percent

Undecided, 21 percent

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Platypus Family Older Than Previously Thought

Paleontologists have discovered the Australian platypus is up to 40 million years older than originally thought, making it the world's oldest known family of mammals.

New research conducted on the fossil jaws of an ancient platypus, published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows the mammals were around at the time of the dinosaurs -- as long as 120 million years ago.

The fossils were unearthed at the seaside town of Inverloch in Victoria state almost a decade ago, but it was only recently that high resolution scans of the specimens were taken, Museum Victoria's head of sciences John Long told Kyodo News.

"This new information has shown that the inside of the jaw has this massively big canal, which is something that you only get in a modern platypus," Long said.

This is another Rich and Vickers-Rich critter from Oz.

I went looking for a copy on PNAS but couldn't find it. Better luck hunting yourselves.

PS the press article has a particularly bad name...sheesh.

GOP: Fred Thompson's Out

One less. It was a serious splat when it came to his campaign. Also a whole lota media overhype there too. No actor for Prez! Woo!

The CNN-Myrtle Beach Democratic Debate

I think the operative word for the day is 'fratricide.'

ouch. I've only gotten 40 minutes into it and ... ouch.

Not good. Not good at all.

If y'guys wanna give the election to the Repugs, keep it up.

Edwards scored a lot of points in the Baird household at least. Not that we can vote in that horse being a Repug and Lyuda being a noncitizen at this juncture.

PS: I have to wonder, if Iraq continues to improve, isn't that also a lot of wind out of the sail for the Dems? Then again the economy. oy.

Coevolution: Bees and the Flowers

The collapse of honeybee colonies across North America is focusing attention on the honeybees' vital role in the survival of agricultural crops, and a new study by University of Florida and Indiana University Southeast researchers shows insect pollinators have likely played a key role in the evolution and success of flowering plants for nearly 100 million years.

The origins of when flowers managed to harness insects' pollinating power has long been murky. But the new study, published online this week on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Web site and appearing in its Dec. 24 print edition, is the first to pinpoint a 96-million-year-old timeframe for a turning point in the evolution of basal angiosperm groups, or early flowering plants, by demonstrating they are predominantly insect-pollinated.

"Our study of clumping pollen shows that insect pollinators most likely have always played a large role in the evolution of flowering plants," said David Dilcher, a graduate research professor of paleobotany at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "It was true 96 million years ago and we are seeing it today with the potential threat to our agricultural crops because of the collapse of the honeybee colonies. The insect pollinators provide for more efficient and effective pollination of flowering plants."

The study provides strong evidence for the widely accepted hypothesis that insects drove the massive adaptive radiation of early flowering plants when they rapidly diversified and expanded to exploit new terrestrial niches. Land plants first appear in the fossil record about 425 million years ago, but flowering plants didn't appear until about 125 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous period.

The study also is the first to describe the biological structure of pollen clumping in the early Late Cretaceous, which holds clues about the types of pollinators with which they were coevolving, said lead author Shusheng Hu, who started the study while at the Florida Museum but is currently at Indiana University Southeast. Hu said previous scientists found examples of early clumped pollen from a slightly earlier time period but these were interpreted as immature parts of anther from a flower, or dismissed as insect packaging activity or fecal pellets.

"We really had to jump out of the box and think in a new way on these widespread pollen clumps," said Hu, who completed the research in 2006 as part of his UF doctoral work.

Today, flowers specialized for insect pollination disperse clumps of five to 100 pollen grains. Clumped grains are comparatively larger and have more surface relief than wind- or water-dispersed pollen, which tend to be single, smaller and smoother.

"These clumps represent an amazing new strategy in the evolution of flowering plants," Dilcher said. "For me, the excitement here lies in the early times of these fossil flowers, when angiosperms were making these huge evolutionary steps. What we found with the fossil pollen clumps folds nicely into what has been suggested by molecular biologists that those plants that are basal in angiosperm evolutionary relationships seem to have been dominated by insect pollination."

The nine species of fossil pollen clumps, combined with known structural changes occurring in flowering plants at this time, led the researchers to suggest that insect pollination was well established by the early Late Cretaceous -- only a few million years before the explosion in diversity and distribution of flowering plant families. Known structural changes include early prototypes of stamen and anther, plant organs which lift pollen up and away from the plant, positioning the plants' genetic material to be passed off to visiting insects.

The researchers sampled pollen from three sites in Minnesota's Dakota Formation, which represents a time period when a shallow seaway covered North America's interior.

From the press release.

Early steps of angiosperm–pollinator coevolution

Shusheng Hu*,{dagger}, David L. Dilcher{ddagger},{dagger}, David M. Jarzen{ddagger}, and David Winship Taylor*

*Department of Biology, Indiana University Southeast, New Albany, IN 47150; and {ddagger}Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-7800

Contributed by David L. Dilcher, November 2, 2007 (received for review May 5, 2007)

The hypothesis that early flowering plants were insect-pollinated could be tested by an examination of the pollination biology of basal angiosperms and the pollination modes of fossil angiosperms. We provide data to show that early fossil angiosperms were insect-pollinated. Eighty-six percent of 29 extant basal angiosperm families have species that are zoophilous (of which 34% are specialized) and 17% of the families have species that are wind-pollinated, whereas basal eudicot families and basal monocot families more commonly have wind and specialized pollination modes (up to 78%). Character reconstruction based on recent molecular trees of angiosperms suggests that the most parsimonious result is that zoophily is the ancestral state. Combining pollen ornamentation, size, and aperture characteristics and the abundance of single-species pollen clumps of Cenomanian angiosperm-dispersed pollen species from the Dakota Formation demonstrates a dominance of zoophilous pollination (76% versus 24% wind pollination). The zoophilous pollen species have adaptations for pollination by generalist insects (39%), specialized pollen-collecting insects (27%), and other specialized pollinators (10%). These data quantify the presences of more specialized pollination modes during the mid-Cretaceous angiosperm diversification.

The paper is here.

There was a story running around that the insects and flowering plants were what did in the dinosaurs. Blocks, I say! Blocks! If you go back to an old post, I swiped from Ward's Out of Thin Air, a nice plot of dinosaur genera wrt to time and plotted alongside the O2 levels of that period. If the rise of insects and flowering plants did the giants in why did they sky rocket in the number of genera towards the end of the Cretaceous? I'll have to read the book, but something doesn't match up.

Seen via Paleoblog.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Reminder! BY XII on Saturday!

Get me or Brian the posts, folks!

The Chinese Gambit?

When Richard Nixon became president in early 1969, the nation was at war in Vietnam. America’s enemy in that conflict received military assistance from the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent China. Early in his term Nixon became interested in improving ties with China. There were a number of reasons for this: China and the Soviet Union were enemies, China was not yet a strategic threat to the United States, and Nixon recognized an opportunity to create an alliance with China that would make things more difficult for the Soviet Union. He told Henry Kissinger to work on the issue. Kissinger made a secret visit to China, and eventually the United States and China were able to develop an alliance. By February 1972, despite criticism from American conservatives, Nixon actually visited China during a historic and symbolic trip that also included substantive agreements on things such as trade and diplomatic communications. That alliance made the Soviet Union nervous and ultimately led to better US-Soviet relations, including leadership visits, arms control agreements, and even a rendezvous between American and Soviet spacecraft. Nixon was a miserable SOB and a terrible president, but his China gambit was a masterful example of strategic flanking.


But most importantly, it is possible for the two countries to deliberately avoid a hostile superpower rivalry by maneuvering themselves out of one. They could mutually agree that military confrontation on a strategic basis is simply unwise, and unprofitable. They could take steps to improve communications and relations. And space exploration could serve as one tool for navigating the two powers away from a future adversarial relationship.

Tkae a read. Dwayne, as always, provides some interesting comments and is as articulate as ever. However, I don't think that cooperating in space will - one way or another - have much impact on terrestrial politics between the USA and PRC. I also think it'd be bad idea in general for tech transfer reasons. Finally, frakkin A, folks, competition is a good thing. We don't all have to sit there and hold hands. sheesh.

A Bit More on Books

To round out the books I purchased from gift cards for Christmas, I settled on the following books.

To continue the paleo theme, I picked up Continents and Supercontinents like I mentioned that I planned to in my last post on books. I also picked up Evolutionary Paleoecology. I wanted to get more paleo themed books, but two others came up that I couldn't ignore.

For what its worth, as a former borderer, I am a bit ashamed that I didn't know as much about Mexican politics or history as I really ought to have. I have been boning up on my Mexican history recently. I digested some of it and even read some on illegal immigration from that country. Some of those books were quite despicable. I saw a new release about the illegal immigration from the Mexican point of view. That seemed intriguing. Considering that its also from a nontrivial mover and shaker in Mexico, Ex Mex seemed like it would be an interesting read even if I might disagree with its conclusions. Then again, I might not: I haven't even cracked it open yet.

Returning to an older theme about building a home, I had a chance to jump on a used and inexpensive copy of a book I almost ordered last year: Prescriptive method for insulating concrete forms in residential construction. I declined way back because it was quite expensive and unavailable except through a trade organization. I also was getting rather frustrated at the time with the land deals that kept getting gummed up in title issues. I stumbled across it at one fifth the price and through Amazon, so I snapped it up. I need it even if its not for this year.

I have been reading and made some progress: I read Designing Embedded Hardware, Polar Dinosaurs of Australia (which I am not happy about, but its my own fault), and Evolution of Fossil Ecosystems (which is about lagerstatten). Disappointingly, there's been none such for the Permian whatsoever. I am half done with Russia's Far East. I set it aside because it required more stop and think time as I went and my daughter wasn't helping with that a whole lot. We got her a gear set for Second Christmas (orthodox) and she loves to play with papa with it.

Plus, my late evenings have been filled with cad drawing madness.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ukrainian Leaders: Let Us In NATO!

On January 16 Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and Parliament Chairman Arseny Yatsenyuk made public a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, declaring Ukraine's readiness to advance to a Membership Action Plan (MAP) with NATO and requesting a decision to that end by the Alliance at its Bucharest summit in early April.

The three Ukrainian leaders' letter states that the country sees itself as part of the Euro-Atlantic security space; is determined to counteract threats to common security alongside NATO countries; and is committed to continuing its participation in NATO-led peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations. The leaders state that progress already achieved within the NATO-Ukraine Intensified Dialogue constitutes a strong basis for advancing to a MAP.

To get this to happen, YuschTymosenyuk are going to have to compaign loooooong and hard to get Ukrainians to want this. There's a deep belief that the US is out to get make them a colony, for goodness sake. They believe if they join NATO that it makes them a colony. Hrm. Someone needs to tell the Canucks and the French that.

Cray Technical Workshop North America 2008

Cray Technical Workshop North America 2008

February 26-27, 2008, San Francisco, CA

Please join us at the Cray Technical Workshop North America 2008, February 26-27, 2008, at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, CA. At this workshop you will hear directly from users and Cray experts on the latest scientific advancements using Cray supercomputers, as well as expert advice on how to achieve the optimum performance on your Cray system and future innovations from Cray Inc.

Registration is free! Please register online.

A bunch of my coworkers are going to be presenting, including my wallmate, Katie. We are one of the sponsors. I strongly recommend going to participate for those that are HPC geek inclined.

California Poll Numbers


Clinton 38%
Obama 33%
Edwards 12%
Kucinich 3%


McCain 24%
Romney 17%.
Huckabee 13%
Thompson 13%
Giuliani 11%


A Russian man who killed a Swiss air traffic controller he blamed for a plane crash that killed his family was appointed to a high-level government post in southern Russia, state-run media reported.

Vitaly Kaloyev, an architect, was named deputy construction and architecture minister of his home province, North Ossetia, one of Russia's 85 administrative regions, the RIA-Novosti news agency and other media reported.

Kaloyev, 51, was convicted in Switzerland in October 2005 of killing Peter Nielsen, a controller with the Swiss company Skyguide, and sentenced to more than five years in prison. He was released in November in accordance with Swiss legislation that allows early release of convicted criminals for good behavior.

And now he works for the Russian government. huh.

Mass Extinction Ecological Recovery

The full recovery of ecological systems, following the most devastating extinction event of all time, took at least 30 million years, according to new research from the University of Bristol.

About 250 million years ago, at the end of the Permian, a major extinction event killed over 90 per cent of life on earth, including insects, plants, marine animals, amphibians, and reptiles. Ecosystems were destroyed worldwide, communities were restructured and organisms were left struggling to recover. This was the nearest life ever came to being completely wiped out.

Previous work indicates that life bounced back quite quickly, but this was mostly in the form of ‘disaster taxa’ (opportunistic organisms that filled the empty ecospace left behind by the extinction), such as the hardy Lystrosaurus, a barrel-chested herbivorous animal, about the size of a pig.

The most recent research, conducted by Sarda Sahney and Professor Michael Benton at the University of Bristol and published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B this week, indicates that specialised animals forming complex ecosystems, with high biodiversity, complex food webs and a variety of niches, took much longer to recover.

Sahney said: “Our research shows that after a major ecological crisis, recovery takes a very long time. So although we have not yet witnessed anything like the level of the extinction that occurred at the end of the Permian, we should nevertheless bear in mind that ecosystems take a very long time to fully recover.”

That's OUR Sarda! Wooooooo!

Come back, Sarda! We miss you! Come back!

(and may I have a copy of your paper? You know I have a thing for mass extinctions...)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Congress Does a Smash-up of US Science...again

The link above is to an interview of Ray Orbach, the undersecretary for science at the U.S. Department of Energy. Congress just slashed $400 million from the science - purely science - side of DOE's budget.

The money for ITER is just plain gone.

The money for the ILC is cut by 75%.

This Congress is just plain pissing me off.

The Future Has Arrived

The IAAF has received the results of an independent scientific study carried out by Professor Peter Brüggemann at the German Sport University in Cologne. This study made a biomechanical and physiological analysis of long sprint running by a double transtibial amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius (RSA) using “cheetah” prosthetics, and also compared this athlete with five able-bodied athletes who are capable of similar levels of performance at 400m.

The tests, which took place on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 November in the Institute of Biomechanics and Orthopaedics, were initiated by the IAAF with the approval and participation of Oscar in order to see whether the prosthetics used by him should be considered as technical aids which give him an advantage over other athletes not using them, in contravention of IAAF competition rule 144.2.*

Oscar Pistorius is a double amputee of the legs. He has been competing to get into the Olympics with prosthetics. They won't let him: his prosthetics allow him to use less energy than a normal human when running for a given speed.

Yep, folks, the artificial is better than the natural.


Global Warming Threatens Coastal Chinese Cities

Sea levels off Shanghai and other Chinese coastal cities are rising at an alarming rate, leading to contamination of drinking water supplies and other threats, China's State Oceanic Administration reported Thursday.

Waters off the industrial port city of Tianjin, 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of Beijing, rose by 7.72 inches (20 centimeters) over the past three decades, the administration said.

Seas off the business hub of Shanghai have risen by 4.53 inches (11.5 centimeters) over the same period, the report said.

Administration experts said global climate change and the sinking of coastal land due to the pumping of ground water were the major causes behind rising water levels.

Mildly ironic that, since China famously refuses to do anything about global warming that might effect their economy until 2050. Maybe I should have called this, "Sleeping in the bed you made."

Surviving Russia’s Drift to Fascism

Back in 1993-1994, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s sudden rise to prominence and the resonance that his openly chauvinistic and revanchist views found among elements of the Russian public gave rise to talk of a “Weimar Russia.” Zhirinovsky quickly self-destructed, and the Weimar Russia image soon faded. Unfortunately, it may be time to speak of a far more worrisome phenomenon — a post-Weimar, or even fascist Russia.

Contemporary Russia is remarkably similar to post-World War I Germany. Both countries emerged from imperial collapse and regime change and experienced massive economic hardship and political chaos. Their populations felt humiliated and their imperial identities were battered, and they responded by blaming their enemies, former colonies, disloyal minorities — and democracy. Both countries turned to nationalist, chauvinist, revanchist and neo-imperialist rhetoric, and embraced charismatic leaders promising to reestablish national glory, rebuild state power, and command international respect. Both rulers promptly abandoned democracy — to the applause of the majority of their populations.

These similarities suggest that it may be time to abandon such terms as managed or sovereign or hybrid democracy for today’s Russia. Even the term “authoritarian” may not be fully adequate. There are good reasons to think that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is acquiring all the characteristics of a fascist state.

I have made the analogy myself, truthfully, even back in the 1990s (post Zhirinovsky, pre Putin) that the 1990s felt like a techno version of the 1920s and that Russia looked like Weimar Germany. I believe that I have even made comments to that effect more recently. However, I think I was wrong. I don't think that Russia is turning fascist exactly. I have been becoming more and more infatuated with the idea that Putin is creating the Russian equivalent of the PRI and its authoritarian system that allowed it to hold onto power for multiple decades.

Russia as Mexico? That has interesting potential for thought.

Thylacoleo Could Have Munched African Leo

Pound for pound, Australia’s extinct marsupial lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) would have made mince meat of today’s African lion (Panthera leo) had the two big hyper-carnivores ever squared off in a fight to the death, according to an Australian scientist.

New research published in the Journal of Zoology suggests that Thylacoleo killed prey rapidly, using its “bolt-cutter” type teeth to scissor through hide and flesh to produce major trauma and blood loss.

By contrast, African lions and similar big cats of today use their bite force to suffocate prey, using a “clamp and hold” technique that can take up to 15 minutes with large prey such as Cape buffalo.

“My results suggest that the marsupial lion employed a unique killing technique,” says research author Stephen Wroe. “It used its massive carnassial cheekteeth to effect major trauma and a rapid kill. Unlike any living mammalian carnivores, the marsupial’s carnassials were not only butchery tools but also active components in the killing process.”

Using a sophisticated computer modelling method [finite element (FE) analysis], that renders dynamic 3D models based on CT scans of the marsupial’s cranial mechanics and musculoskeletal architecture, Wroe has revealed that the creature’s skull, jaw, and head and neck muscles were well adapted to using the unique technique for killing large prey, but not for delivering the prolonged suffocating bite of living big cats.

Too bad. The title of the article smacks a bit of Death Star vs Enterprise, but, y'know, why not. However, the fact that they modeled this bugger's chomper and found it so different from the modern cats bite is fascinating. Unwin did a lot of modeling for how pterosaurs walk and others have tried to do so with dinosaur movement rates, but I suspect that the science that could be done with computer models and all things paleo has barely been scratched.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thought for the Day

Take no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul.

Niccolo Machiavelli


A Little HPC

I thought it was time to do a little bit of HPC news. I don't do that nearly as often because I have to tread carefully. When I left working at HELSTF, I thought I was done with the world of secrets. Little did I realize that I know more 'secret' stuff now because of all the vendor briefings that come attached with NDAs. Sheesh. Secondly, and equally importantly, I have to be careful because of the politics of HPC and work. oy.

However, I will say that we are retiring our huge IBM SP3. It's something of a passing of an era. The machine that tormented me and occasionally I could use to 'torment' others was switched off and they are cutting her up pieces as we speak. It arrived when I first came to NERSC and now its being carted off. It's a sad and glorious day: my rotations might be quiet for a change.


My rotation is always fraught with issues. I had another person swap rotations so that we, as in my family, could go traveling. My swapper came back and said, "Never again!" because she had one thing after another go wrong. Her comment was "No wonder you look so exhausted by the end of your rotation!"

In other news, the Brits got a Cray. It's a pretty hefty machine at 63 teraflops and they even gave it a nifty name (Hector). Wasn't Paris Hector's downfall though? Are they sure they want to name their machine that when they are so "close" to a city with a similar name? ;)

In contrast, seaborg was a 10 teraflop (peak) and 7 teraflop (sustained) system.

PS: We have a Cray too:

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Happened to T rex Family Values?!

Dinosaurs had pregnancies as early as age 8, far before they reached their maximum adult size, a new study finds.

Researchers at Ohio University and University of California at Berkeley have found medullary bone – the same tissue that allows birds to develop eggshells – in two new dinosaur specimens: the meat-eater Allosaurus and the plant-eater Tenontosaurus. It’s also been found in Tyrannosaurus rex.

The discovery allowed researchers to pinpoint the age of these pregnant dinosaurs, which were 8, 10 and 18. That suggests that the creatures reached sexual maturity earlier than previously thought, according to the scientists, who will publish their study Jan. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists originally studied the bones, which come from different geologic periods, to learn more about dinosaur growth rates. Because researchers rarely find fossils of adult dinosaurs, some have speculated that the ancient beasts never stopped developing, said Andrew Lee, a postdoctoral student at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine who conducted the work as a graduate student at University of California at Berkeley with scientist Sarah Werning.

The new study suggests another explanation: Dinosaurs grew fast but only lived three to four years in adulthood. Offspring were probably precocious, like calves or foals, Lee said.

“We were lucky to find these female fossils,” Werning said. “Medullary bone is only around for three to four weeks in females who are reproductively mature, so you’d have to cut up a lot of dinosaur bones to have a good chance of finding this.”

The research also offers more evidence that dinosaurs were less like reptiles and more like birds. Though dinosaurs had offspring before adulthood, their early sexual maturity was more a function of their tremendous size than any anatomical similarity to crocodiles.

When they factored in the size of the dinosaurs, Lee and Werning found that the reptile model for sexual maturity predicted that the ancient beasts would have had offspring as late as age 218. “That’s clearly ridiculous,” Lee said. Research shows that most dinosaurs only lived until age 30, though long-necked creatures such as Brontosaurus may have reached 60.

“We hope this is the last nail in the coffin, but some scientists still cling to the notion that dinosaurs weren’t like birds,” Lee said.

The discovery also sheds new light on the evolution of birds. The presence of medullary tissue in these dinosaurs, which lived as long as 200 million years ago, shows that the reproductive strategies of modern birds have ancient origins.

Because birds have evolved to be much smaller than dinosaurs, however, their reproductive strategies and growth spans now bear no resemblance to those of T. rex. Birds grow to adulthood in only 40 days, but may take one to 10 years to reach sexual maturity. That’s relatively similar in other tiny critters such as shrews, Lee said.

NOW WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO TREX! Their family VALUES declined until their civ generated so those nonarchosaurian mammals could take over! What a parallel warning we have for the modern era! Protect those family values! Or risk going the way of the T rex!

ahem. ok. politics OD recently.

It's interesting that they argue that T rex had a avian similar growth. That would imply a warm blooded metabolism. That runs rather contrary to the conclusions about the chasmosaurs in Horns and Beaks with the paper there on the subject. This always raises the possibility that endothermy is 'just' a theropod trait. However, there are not a lot of ectotherms out there that get nearly as big these days: they have a hard time competing with the endotherms. I have a hard time seeing that it would be much different back then in this respect.

Whoops. That's what I get for reading too fast:Tenontosaurus was included and seems to be implied that it grew the same way. hrm. What's that mean for ectothermy in dinos theory then?

Update #2: NatGeo has an article too.

The Dangers of Stupidity

(Tsien Hsue-shen with Mao Zedong in 1956, not long after Tsien had been deported from the United States. (credit: Chinese propaganda photo via Dwayne Day's article)

One of the nasty twists of irony is that the United States is that we gave the Chinese the tres big boost to get their ballistic missile and space program going. The PRC didn't have any scientists or engineers trained for rocketry whatsoever until the FBI began harassing Tsien during the McCarthy era. Tsien was very apolitical at the time. He did file a request to go visit his parents in China after he had already done so with government approval. Then he was harassed and even put under house arrest for five years. After that Tsien was deported. The rest is history.

I recommend that you read the Aviation Week article and Dwayne Day's article on the subject.

I am not so sure we have learned from our mistakes. We seem to repeat them. Perhaps we ought to learn from our mistakes?

New Boneyard Up (#XI!)

Zach is the good man this week. There's some very good stuff up. I recommend it highly My own contributions are the Cretaceous glaciers posts.

Zach gives me a hard time for not getting the Permian Ecology post done. It's already frakkin long, but I have to plead that I have been stuck in front of the computer working CAD drawings and taking care of my daughter since I was a single parent this past week. Lyuda gets back tonight, so I might just have time later tonight and tomorrow to get this done. However, on Wednesday school starts. yoy.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Little More on the Cretaceous Glaciers

Yesterday I put up a post on the research that was just published stating that during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum that there were glaciers in Gondwana. When I put up the post, I didn't have much time to think about it. I've had a couple minutes and now I have a couple comments to make. They're not super profound; however, they might have something to add to the discussion.

First off, this isn't that much of a revelation. The Riches in their work about their excavations at Dinosaur Cove in Australia found evidence of permafrost sometime ago. The fact that the southern polar region was really could was already established. If it was cold enough to have permafrost, it might be possible to have glaciers. This newest work seems to establish that, yes, indeed, there were.

It could be that the atmospheric circulation of the time would allow for a colder set of poles, at least in the southern hemisphere. There was no source of heat buffering down there that there was in the northern polar regions. In the north, the shallow, inland seas of NorAM provided a way for warm water to circulate up from the equator - stay warm - and reach the Arctic. This didn't have an equivalent down south. Therefore, even if the edges of the continent were quite warm, its entirely possible, probably through the Milkanovitch Cycles, polar summer-winter sunlight cycles, and increased albedo of snow and ice that an ice cap could have formed over south pole area of Gondwana. This would be in spite of the much warmer equator.

Shibbit. I am going to cut this short. I'll update it later.

Oz Wants a Raptor

Australia's new defense minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, is sticking by promises to seek access to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.

His stance is a bit confusing, because neither he nor the rest of the government is saying they actually want to buy F-22s. Japan, on the other hand, knows that it does want them and has been told by Washington it can't have them.

"I intend to pursue American politicians for access to the Raptor to get it into the mix," Fitzgibbon says, repeating a commitment he made before his Labor Party won the country's Nov. 24 election.

They are probably going to have the same problem that Japan has been facing with acquiring the Raptor: it's under special export restrictions. They might want to buy the Japanese equivalent instead. I bet the Japanese would be more than happy to sell it to the Aussies.

Cretaceous Glaciation

New research challenges the generally accepted belief that substantial ice sheets could not have existed on Earth during past super-warm climate events. The study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego provides strong evidence that a glacial ice cap, about half the size of the modern day glacial ice sheet, existed 91 million years ago during a period of intense global warming. This study offers valuable insight into current day climate conditions and the environmental mechanisms for global sea level rise.

The new study in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Science titled, “Isotopic Evidence for Glaciation During the Cretaceous Supergreenhouse,” examines geochemical and sea level data retrieved from marine microfossils deposited on the ocean floor 91 million years ago during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum. This extreme warming event in Earth’s history raised tropical ocean temperatures to 35-37°C (95-98.6°F), about 10°C (50°F) warmer than today, thus creating an intense greenhouse climate.

Also here.

Fascinating stuff here. A lot to think about wrt paleoclimate. I'm a little short on time right now, so no deep thoughts: Lyuda's in the Bahamas (my anniversary gift to her from last summer). I am acting as a single parent sans daycare juggling work, Avrora, and that side project that I keep taunting Julia about. I've been stuck doing CAD work in the evenings and after Avrora goes to sleep for days now since we got home from being snow bound in Tahoe.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Minus Three Now from the Brats

Richardson dropped out. This follows Biden and Dodd. I can't say that I will miss Richardson. Biden on the other hand I regret not getting more support.

The Repugnants are still wide open though.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Better and Longer Political Quiz

Take a look. I matched best with Romney, McCain, and Clinton.

Machaeridian Worms Were Annelids

Discovery of an exceptional fossil specimen in southeastern Morocco that preserves evidence of the animal’s soft tissues has solved a paleontological puzzle about the origins of an extinct group of bizarre slug-like animals with rows of mineralized armor plates on their backs, according to a paper in Nature.

While evolution has produced great diversity in the body designs of animals, over the course of history several highly distinct groups, such as trilobites and ammonites, have become extinct. The new fossil is of an unusual creature known as a machaeridian, an invertebrate, or animal without a backbone, that existed for about 180 million years from 485 to 305 million years ago.

“The new specimen unequivocally identifies machaeridians as annelid worms, an extremely successful and diverse group of animals that includes familiar living animals like the sea mouse, the earthworm and the leech,” said Jakob Vinther, graduate student in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at Yale. The specimen was found in an area that had earlier been identified as a rich source of exceptionally preserved fossils including sponges, trilobites, echinoderms and other less-familiar invertebrates.

So the Cambrian was sooo divorced from now...again.

Gack! Yet Another Los Alamosian

This must be the season or something.

Toby Rush, a former schoolmate and very talented composer, is a professor of music and a father of four. There must be something about this time of year and Los Alamosians...

Introducing Yet Another Dino Mummy!

The plant-eating Psittacosaurus had a thick layer of shark-like skin hidden under scales or feathers.

Palaeontologists believe this tough outer coating supported the dinosaur's organs and protected it from predators.

Tooth marks suggest the dinosaur was torn open by a scavenger, giving a unique insight into their biology, 100 million years after this one's death.

The research is published in the Royal Society's journal Proceedings B.


The bipedal herbivore, which grew to about the size of a gazelle, had tough, scaly skin with more than 25 layers of collagen - similar to that of today's sharks, reptiles and dolphins.


The specimen comes from an area of China that has yielded a treasure trove of uniquely-preserved fossils.

"Discoveries like this from China are certainly churning out new surprises," commented Mark Witton of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, UK.

"To have the skin folded on the fossil so that you can see the cross section through it is remarkable."

He said the skin of the dinosaur would have been "incredibly tough" and probably served to protect the animal from attack by predators.


The Chinese specimen appears to have met its match during the life and death struggles of the Lower Cretaceous.

Tooth marks and fractures in the skin suggest it was attacked by another dinosaur, and then covered by sediment rapidly after its demise, allowing soft tissue to be preserved in remarkable detail.

And here I thought that dino mummies were rare. Silly me. ;)

Is this our first ceratopsian mummy?