Friday, May 30, 2008

Noel's New Blog

Noel Maurer, a long time correspondent online, has jumped to his own blog, entitled "Of Arawaks, Archives, and a Good Cigar." History, politics, economics and their intersection are his specialty. What Noel writes is very insightful. I strongly recommend reading it.

Whose Bright Idea?!

Who suggested that synapsida should be known as theropsida?! We already have therapsida. I have now seen this twice, but it doesn't seem very common. What's going on?!

It seems like the perfect way to just confuse things.

Can any of the pros that read this explain?

I've only seen this in the past couple weeks.

Two Step to the Terminator!


There's something that I've not blogged about that has been making this week really, really hard for me. It's been sapping my energy, depressing me, and making me unable to sleep well at night. That is my family isn't here in the States right now.

Nononono. There's de nada that's wrong per se. It's just that Lyuda and Avrora are off visiting her family in Ukraine. Avrora is having a blast playing with her cousin (Vsevolod). 99% of the time they get along great and are thrilled to see each other in person. They run around screaming and laughing. They're scraped up big time. Vsevolod calls Avrora 'my Avrosha.' It's very cute!

However, when Lyuda left I had made a prediction: I wouldn't want to be Vsevolod if Avrora and he got into a tussle. Lyuda disagreed. Vsevolod's a boy and a couple months older, after all. Avrora's a bit tall (38 inches and RAPIDLY growing). IDK how tall my nephew is. Well, the predicted dust-up happened and my wife informed me I was correct. Avrora grabbed him, toppled him over, and when he wouldn't give up sat on him giving him a few whacks. He's completely overwhelmed. Hey, I didn't nickname Avrora 'Tank Girl' for nuthin, boyo.


Anyways, I really, really miss them. Ja, I'm a wimp. My family is the rock and center of my life.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Greenlandic-Arctic Population Shuffle

Thirty-six-year-old Professor Eske Willerslev, University of Copenhagen, and his team of fossil DNA researchers have done it a couple of times before: rewritten world history. Most recently two months ago when he and his team discovered that the ancestors of the North American Indians were the first people to populate America, and that they came to the country more than 1,000 years earlier than originally assumed. And the evidence is, so to speak, quite tangible: DNA samples of fossilised human faeces found in deep caves in southern Oregon.

This time, focus is on Greenland, and the scientific evidence is DNA analyses of hair from the Disco Bay ice fjord area in north-west Greenland, which are well-preserved after 4,000 years in permafrost soil. The team’s discovery makes it necessary to review Greenland’s immigration history. Until now, science regarded it as a possibility that the earliest people in Greenland were direct ancestors of the present-day Greenlandic population.

It now turns out that the original immigrants on the maternal side, which is reflected in the mitochondrial DNA, instead came from a Siberian population whose closest present-day descendants come from the Aleutian Islands on the boundary between the Northern Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea and the Seriniki Yuit in north-east Siberia. Discovered in more recent times by the Dane Vitus Bering in 1741, the Aleutian Islands today include some 300 islands spanning 1,900 km from Alaska in the USA to the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia.

“They must have crossed the ice from the Aleutian Islands via Alaska and Canada and then on to Greenland. We have always known that the first immigrants came to Greenland approx. 4,500 years ago, because tools from that time have been found. But what we did not know was that they probably came via the Aleutian Islands, which our DNA research now shows. The project was actually close to being shelved. Originally, I was in the most northern part of Greenland with Claus Andreasen from the National Museum of Greenland, Nuuk, looking for DNA traces. It was a total failure. But in another context, I found out that archaeologist Bjarne Grønnow from the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, had made some excavations at the Qeqertasussuk settlement in the northern part of West Greenland in the 1980s. And then, among all the samples taken from the frozen culture layers on the site, I suddenly found a tuft of hair which I analysed together with my colleague Tom Gilbert,” says Eske Willerslev.

‘The forgotten Greenlandic hair’ from the samples was subsequently analysed for so-called mitochondria. They are the genes on the maternal side, a kind of cellular power plant, and they are well-suited for comparative DNA studies of mammals, including humans. The Willerslev team then checked the results of the analysis of the Greenlandic hair against an international DNA database and the database came up with the eastern part of Siberia and the Aleutian Islands, which is populated by a group that has peopled other places in the Arctic area.

Another interesting finding is that there is no connection between this DNA mass and the most recent immigration to Greenland, the Thule culture, the ancestors of modern Greenlandic Inuit.

Humans wander in far more complicated ways than we ever thought. The original story of how the Americas were populated or the Out of Africa hypothesis or imigration to Australia or into Polynesia has all turned out to be a lot weirder and more exciting than we ever thought.

That last is very interesting.

New Buildings for the Lab

They are building two new buildings at the Lab, my employer, is going to build in the hills above UC Berkeley's campus. The City of Berkeley is making itself into its usual pleasant self and challenging everything even after they agree to things. I really love Berkeley. Not.

The first building is for the Helios Project. It's our lab's focus on biofuels.

The second one, the Computing Research and Theory Facility[1], is in large part to move us back up onto the Hill, but not exclusively so. It's also intended to house grad students from on campus and the Computational Research Division at the Lab.

What I am about to say is my opinion and strictly my opinion only. The Lab does not support this statement. It will only find out when one of the people I work with comes to check on my blog. In fact, I may get spanked for saying this. However, look closely at the building. Note the protruding bit above. Note the windows to the left and right. Note the windows below the protrusion. Now doesn't that look like a fugly architectural version of Kilroy?

1. With a most unfortunate acronym. You would think computer people would have chosen a different one...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on the Darren-Mark Pterosaur Paper

Darren and Mark are the authors of the paper that I linked to yesterday. Darren has commented on his Science Blogs blog about the paper. So has Mark commented on his Flickr site. Together they wrote up a blog for the paper. I'm a bit ambivalent about this since it'll effective be a dead blog unless they are going to do more work in the future. I don't like dead/archive blogs. They, perhaps, ought to have put this all in wikipedia or somewhere else as an article (or set of articles).

I do have to wonder though: how could a big strutter like the azhdarchids would survive in the Late Cretaceous with the theropods running around. I think they need to do some functional movement work to demonstrate the grounded uber pterosaurs aren't going to be a snack. Can they transition to flight fast enough? Are they quick on the ground? I am not raining on their model, but suggesting some checks for it.

Beware the Methane Clathrates!!!

Large methane release could cause abrupt climate change as happened 635 million years ago

UCR-led research team says methane-triggered global warming ended last 'snowball' ice age; dramatically reorganized Earth system

An abrupt release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, about 635 million years ago from ice sheets that then extended to Earth’s low latitudes caused a dramatic shift in climate, triggering a series of events that resulted in global warming and effectively ended the last “snowball” ice age, a UC Riverside-led study reports.

The researchers posit that the methane was released gradually at first and then in abundance from clathrates – methane ice that forms and stabilizes beneath ice sheets under specific temperatures and pressures. When the ice sheets became unstable, they collapsed, releasing pressure on the clathrates which began to degas.

“Our findings document an abrupt and catastrophic means of global warming that abruptly led from a very cold, seemingly stable climate state to a very warm also stable climate state with no pause in between,” said Martin Kennedy, a professor of geology in the Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research team.

Now it depends on whether or not the Snowball Earth hypothesis is correct or not whether you follow the above. However, methane releases have greatly influenced the past climate. Most horrifyingly, the terminal Permain. However, more recently, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum has been attributed to methane releases.

There has been a lot of talk about mining the clathrates for sources of natural gas. While this is interesting in some senses - after all, you are converting very scary greenhouse gas to a lesser one and drain the possibly nasty reserves - there are still dangers. Right now, the efficiency of the recovery causes 90% losses to the atmosphere. erk! Not good. Let's improve that before we start venting that much methane into the atmosphere, please! We have to convince the Koreans of that, since South Korea announced that they are going ahead with mining their off-shore sources. o.O

A bit of a tangential thought. One possible contributing factor to Fermi Paradox would be that many worlds are in their Snowball phase at any given time. It's end may have helped trigger complex life here on Earth. If nothing kicks those worlds out of the Snowball stage, life might take a lot longer to develop into complex forms. If ever. OTOH, if the world's never develop a self regulating system like Earth's ecosystems, then either the Snowball could return, pretty much screwing advanced life or rendering the most complicated ecosystems like our Arctic or Antarctic or it may trip the otherway and turn into a runaway Greenhouse making the world into xenoVenus .

Just some thoughts.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I blame Darren & Mark

New research into gigantic flying reptiles has found that they weren’t all gull-like predators grabbing fish from the water but that some were strongly adapted for life on the ground.

Pterosaurs lived during the age of dinosaurs 230 to 65 million years ago. A new study, published in PLoS ONE this week, by researchers at the University of Portsmouth on one particular type of pterosaur, the azhdarchids, claims they were more likely to stalk animals on foot than to fly.

Until now virtually all pterosaurs have been imagined by palaeontologists to have lived like modern seabirds: as gull- or pelican-like predators that flew over lakes and oceans, grabbing fish from the water. But a study of azhdarchid anatomy, footprints and the distribution of their fossils by Mark Witton and Dr Darren Naish shows that this stereotype does not apply to all flying reptiles and some were strongly adapted for terrestrial life.

Azhdarchids were probably better than any other ptersosaurs at walking because they had long limbs and skulls well suited for picking up small animals and other food from the ground.

Azhdarchids, named after the Uzbek word for 'dragon', were gigantic toothless pterosaurs. Azhdarchids include the largest of all pterosaurs: some had wingspans exceeding 10 metres and the biggest ones were as tall as a giraffe.

Dr Naish said: “Azhdarchids first became reasonably well known in the 1970s but how they lived has been the subject of much debate. Originally described as vulture-like scavengers, they were later suggested to be mud-probers (sticking their long bills into the ground in search of prey), and later still suggested to make a living by flying over the water’s surface, grabbing fish.

“Other lifestyles have been suggested too. These lifestyles all seem radically divergent so Mark and I sat down and carefully examined the evidence and we argue that azhdarchids were specialised terrestrial stalkers. All the details of their anatomy, and the environment their fossils are found in, show that they made their living by walking around, reaching down to grab and pick up animals and other prey.”

Animals like azhdarchids no longer exist but the closest analogues in the modern world are large ground-feeding birds like ground-hornbills and storks.

Darren? Mark? What do you have to say for yourselves, gentlemen? Care to explain yourselves?

Finding Pheonix

Phoenix Seen Parachuting By Mars Recon Orbiter

Talk about right place, right time!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Pheonix Has Landed!

Congratz to the team!

Let's see if I do as well in a few years. Albeit not on Mars.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Frog-Salamander Split Fossil Found?

The description of an ancient amphibian that millions of years ago swam in quiet pools and caught mayflies on the surrounding land in Texas has set to rest one of the greatest current controversies in vertebrate evolution. The discovery was made by a research team led by scientists at the University of Calgary.

The examination and detailed description of the fossil, Gerobatrachus hottoni (meaning Hotton’s elder frog), proves the previously disputed fact that some modern amphibians, frogs and salamanders evolved from one ancient amphibian group called temnospondyls.

The discovery is described for the first time in the prestigious international research journal Nature.

“The dispute arose because of a lack of transitional forms. This fossil seals the gap,” says Jason Anderson, assistant professor, University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and lead scientist in the study.

The Gerobatrachus fossil provides a much fuller understanding of the origin and evolution of modern amphibians. The skull, backbone and teeth of Gerobatrachus have a mixture of frog and salamander features—the fossil has two fused bones in the ankle, which is normally only seen in salamanders, and a very large tympanic ear (ear drum). It also has a lightly built and wide skull similar to that of a frog. Its backbone is exactly intermediate in number between the modern frogs and salamanders and more primitive amphibians.

The new fossil also addresses a controversy over molecular clock estimates, or the general time salamanders and frogs evolved into two distinct groups.

“With this new data our best estimate indicates that frogs and salamanders separated from each other sometime between 240 and 275 million years ago, much more recently than previous molecular data had suggested,” says Robert Reisz, professor, University of Toronto Mississauga and second author on the paper.

Another clash between the molecular biologist types and paleongtologists. Temnospondyls, salamanders, and frogs, oh my!

Russia Makes Official Moves to Annex South Ossetia

On May 20 Moscow signaled officially that it was prepared to promote annexation of Georgia’s region of South Ossetia to the Russian Federation. The Russian government seems set to underwrite an ethnic irredenta there, seeking to put an Ossetian face on Russian state expansionism (as it puts an Abkhaz face on Russian policy there).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized, and Minister Sergei Lavrov attended, a presentation of North Ossetia in Moscow for foreign diplomats and businessmen, ostensibly to mark the 225th anniversary of North Ossetia’s incorporation into the Russian Empire. North Ossetian President Teymuraz Mamsurov told the audience in his speech, “I call on you to support the just desire of the Ossetian people to be united.” Mamsurov announced that he would approach foreign diplomatic missions in Moscow with requests to “assist North and South Ossetia to unite” (Itar-Tass,, May 20).

Mamsurov’s pronouncement seems not only to have been authorized, but evidently orchestrated, with Lavrov’s presence at the event indicating high-level support.


Moscow’s loud move on South Ossetia is largely intended to influence Georgia’s May 21 parliamentary elections. It seems designed to impress on Georgian voters that the government cannot handle relations with Russia or deliver on promises to restore Georgia’s territorial integrity, and more broadly to signal that the government is cornered on multiple fronts. Russia’s latest military moves in Abkhazia were also partly calculated to undermine the Georgian government’s standing with voters in the run-up to these parliamentary elections.

Beyond its short-term goals, the endorsement of Ossetian irredentism continues the process of absorbing Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Russia de facto. The Russian presidential decree of April 16 authorized direct official relations between Russian government bodies and the secessionist authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see EDM, April 18). That marked a step toward “legal” recognition in terms of Russian law, formalizing Russia’s de facto annexation policy. In the case of South Ossetia, that move is now being followed up with overt endorsement of ethnic irredentism as an additional instrument of Russian policy in the South Caucasus.

Okay, so when do you think that Russia will make its move? Will it at all? is this just another bit of tactics wrt the Georgian elections? Or is it going to actually do the deed? What will the international community do if Russia uniltaterally annexes chunks of Georgia?

I am leaning towards Russia being serious about this. The reason is that Russia has painted itself into a corner because of Kosovo and the unless it does something its threats will be interpreted as empty. Furthermore, the Russians in Russia will see the government as bombastic with little in the way of teeth: they want creditability and Russia's bite to be real.

Yemeni Dino Trackway

More than a hundred dinosaur footprints have been found on the Arabian Peninsula, the first time that tracks have been unearthed in the region, a new study says.

The 150-million-year-old tracks were made by ornithopods and sauropods—large two- and four-legged plant-eaters, respectively—in modern-day Yemen.

"The first day in the field we had a herd of eleven sauropods and over a hundred prints," said lead author Anne Schulp, a paleontologist at the Natuurhistorisch Museum Maastricht in the Netherlands.

"It's providing the first data point, at least in terms of trackways from this part of the world," she said.

The tracks were first discovered by Mohammed Al-Daheri, a Yemeni journalist, about 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of Yemen's capital, Şan'ā'. (See a Yemen map.)


The footprints are a good example of herding behavior along a coastal mudflat in the late Jurassic period, which lasted from about 200 million to 150 million years ago, experts say.

The paleontologists were also able to infer the size, age, and speed of the sauropods based on their prints.

"We've got young dinosaurs and old ones—[or] at least small ones and big ones—in the same herd," Schulp said.

"The nice thing is they're all traveling together at the same speed"—something like a leisurely stroll, he added.

"Tracks are a sort of snapshot—almost like a movie of a living animal—whereas bones tell you about the dead ones," Lockley said.

The find may also "spark some ecological debate," Lockley said, since "there's conventional wisdom that the two types of herbivorous dinosaurs—the ornithopods and sauropods—do not commonly co-occur or co-exist together," he said.

There's also a theropod trackway in there too that they don't mention, but took a photograph of for NatGeo. Coherding orinthopods and sauropods? OoOooOOoooo!


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Reverse Evolution? umm...

(image source: NatGeo)

When a historic cleanup helped clear the waters of a polluted lake near Seattle, a population of tiny, spiny fish called sticklebacks may have "evolved in reverse" to survive.

In the 1950s, Lake Washington, an inland lake that parallels Washington State's Pacific Coast, took on 20 million gallons (76 million liters) of phosphorous-laden sewage a day (see Washington State map).

By the 1960s it had become a 300,000-acre (121,400-hectare) cesspool.

Then an unprecedented U.S.-$140-million cleanup in the mid-1960s transformed the lake into the pristine boaters' paradise that it is today.

But the lake's recovery put at least one species in a pickle: the three-spine stickleback.

The small fish, formerly hidden in the murky depths, found itself swimming in plain view of predators like cutthroat trout.

Researchers now think the threat of predators spurred the fish into rapid evolution toward an older version of itself, evolutionarily speaking.

Today's Lake Washington sticklebacks are a throwback to their ancestors, which grew armored plates as a defense, according to Katie Peichel, a biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

"We call it 'reverse evolution' because the sticklebacks are reverting to an ancestral phenotype [or appearance], that of the marine sticklebacks, which originally founded the lake populations," she said.

Peichel is co-author of a new study on the sticklebacks that appears in the May 20 issue of the journal Current Biology.

hmmm. Any bo types that want to take a look at the paper? That just seems like a very poor choice of words to me.

Boneyard XX

Immigration Assimiliation Rates: A New Study

The popular press spin on the above report is here at the Washington Post:

Immigrants of the past quarter-century have been assimilating in the United States at a notably faster rate than did previous generations, according to a study released today.

Modern-day immigrants arrive with substantially lower levels of English ability and earning power than those who entered during the last great immigration wave at the turn of the 20th century. The gap between today's foreign-born and native populations remains far wider than it was in the early 1900s and is particularly large in the case of Mexican immigrants, the report said.

The study, sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, a New York think tank, used census and other data to devise an assimilation index to measure the degree of similarity between the United States' foreign-born and native-born populations. These included civic factors, such as rates of U.S. citizenship and service in the military; economic factors, such as earnings and rates of homeownership; and cultural factors, such as English ability and degree of intermarriage with U.S. citizens. The higher the number on a 100-point index, the more an immigrant resembled a U.S. citizen.

I haven't had time to read the report, so I will reserve judgement, but there's a quote on immigration from the book I just finished reading:

Why should the Palatine boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

- Benjamin Franklin

Replace Palatine and Germanize with Mexican and some verb form of Latinization, Anglifying with Americanizing and Colony with Nation and you get a very Tancredo-esque rant. Interesting, no? IIRC, 60+% of Americans can point to German ancestry and at one point the Germans were supposed to have assumed that the US would side with them since there were so many German descendants in the US circa Great Mistake #1. For some reason the phrase "German spirit with an English veneer" comes to mind wrt that. Yet, I would hardly say that America was Germanified despite the majority of the population being of German descent.

Oh yes, he didn't consider most Germans white. Or French. Or Russians. Or Swedes. or Italians. Or... Hence the comment about "Complexion." Yes, the same thing went for the Irish. These days few to any consider the the Italians anything other than white. I had an amusing conversation with a Latino friend about whether or not the Italians should be considered Latino or not. It was amusing and not very serious at all. It is very interesting that over time the White label has grown more and more inclusive. I have to wonder in 50 years time will Latinos as a whole and especially Mexicans be "White," too?

Advanced Tactical Laser Successfully Test Fired

The Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) is a weapons class chemical laser, COIL (iirc), that the special operations command has contracted with Boeing to develop. The idea is that the laser gunship will be able to engage targets without collateral damage since the energy is overwhelmingly pumped all into the target. Boeing announced that they have successfully test fired the integrated platform, a C-130, at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. This isn't an in-flight test yet, but that shouldn't be too much of a problem.

However, I want to make sure that there's something understood. The wikipedia entry states that the ATL is a megwatt class laser. This may not be true. In fact, it's doubtful. Traditionally, a weapon's grade laser is 100 kilowatts. Scaling lasers, especially ones like chemical lasers that consume fuel, is not a linear problem by any means and if you can save weight and improve firing times, why use a bigger laser than necessary?

Note: mass deployment of chemical lasers is highly unlikely. In the case of COILs, if the laser apparatus is damaged you end up with dry cleaned lungs. In the case of D-F lasers like the THEL, you get flourine fires. Those are nasty, nasty, nasty. Anyone that wants a D-F laser laying around on a battlefield is of questionable sanity, IMAAO.

We are live in 3...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Crustacean Parasite?

First identified in 1899, y-larvae have been one of the greatest zoological mysteries for over a century. No one has ever found an adult of these puzzling crustaceans, despite the plethora of these larvae in plankton, leading generations of marine zoologists to wonder just what y- larvae grow up to be. A study published in BioMed Central’s open access journal, BMC Biology, reports the transformation of the larvae into a previously unseen, wholly un-crustacean-like, parasitic form.

Y larvae, or facetotectans, are found amongst marine plankton in oceans from the poles to the tropics. In coral reef areas they occur dizzying diversity, even though they are ubiquitous and similar to the larvae of barnacles, not one adult y-organism has been identified in over 100 years of considerable searching.

“Facetotectans are the only crustacean group with a taxonomy based solely on larval stages”, say Henrik Glenner and Jens Hoeg (University of Copenhagen) and colleagues from Japan “but the great species diversity indicates that the adults play an important ecological role.” Supported by the Carlsberg Foundation in Denmark and the Lake Biwa Museum in Japan, the study authors collected the study authors collected over 40 species of y larvae from one site at Sesoko Island near Okinawa, Japan, and exposed many of them to a crustacean moulting-hormone to encourage them to mature. The free-swimming y-larvae shed their articulated exoskeleton, and a simple, slug- like, pulsing mass of cells emerged.

The authors explain “The musculature and compound eyes that you might expect to see in adult crustaceans were in a state of degeneration, and from our observations of the live, and also preserved specimens, we conclude that the adults of these larvae must be parasites – but of what we do not know.”

And just when you thought life couldn't through a weirder one at you...


CCSM Paleoclimate Working Group Session

CCSM Paleoclimate Working Group Session
Tuesday, 17 June 2008

1:30 - 1:45 Simulating the Late Ordovician with CCSM3 - Christine Shields NCAR

1:45 - 2:00 Cloud Properties and Warm Poles: Simulations of the P/T and PETM - Jeff Kiehl NCAR

2:00 - 2:20 Mesoscale Modeling of the Eocene Ice-Free Arctic - Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, U Maryland

2:20 - 2:40 GCM Reconstruction of the Last Glacial Inception - Megan Essig, U Nebraska/Lincoln

2:40 - 3:00 Freshwater Forcing of Rapid Climate Change - Dick Peltier, U Toronto

3:00 - 3:20 Break

3:20 - 3:40 Simulating trianset Climate Evolution of the Last 21,000 Years with CCSM3 (TraCE-21,000): A Progress Report - Feng He, U Wisconsin

3:40 - 4:00 Climate Model Tests of the Early Athropocene Hypothesis - Steve Vavrus, U Wisconsin

4:00 - 4:20 Climate Impacts of the Largest Volcanic Eruption of the Last Millennium - David Schnieder, NCAR

4:20 - 4:40 Atlatnic SST Influences on Mega-Droughts in North America: A case Study on the Medieval Warm Period - Song Feng, U Nebraska/Lincoln

4:40 - 5:00 The Role of ENSO in REgulating the Mean Climate of the Tropical Pacific - DeZeng Sun, NOAA

Friday, May 16, 2008

For Doug: 55 Million Year Old Parrot

Palaeontologists have discovered fossil remains in Scandinavia of parrots dating back 55 million years. Reported May 14 in the journal Palaeontology, the fossils indicate that parrots once flew wild over what is now Norway and Denmark.

Parrots today live only in the tropics and southern hemisphere, but this new research suggests that they first evolved in the North, much earlier than had been thought.

The fossil parrot was discovered on the Isle of Mors in the northwest of Denmark – far from where you’d normally expect to find a parrot. It’s a new species, officially named 'Mopsitta tanta'. However, already its nick-name is the ‘Danish Blue Parrot’, a term derived from a famous comedy sketch about a 'Norwegian Blue Parrot' in the 1970s BBC television programme ‘Monty Python’.

The Scandinavian connection makes links to Monty Python’s notoriously demised bird irresistible, but the parallels go further. The famous sketch revolves around establishing that a bird purchased by John Cleese is a dead parrot, and in dealing with these fossils, palaeontologists were faced with the same problem.

As Dr David Waterhouse, lead author of the paper, explains: “Obviously, we are dealing with a bird that is bereft of life, but the tricky bit is establishing that it was a parrot. As with many fragile bird fossils, it is a wonder that anything remains at all, and all that remains of this early Danish parrot is a single upper wing bone (humerus). But, this small bone contains characteristic features that show that it is clearly from a member of the parrot family, about the size of a Yellow-crested Cockatoo.”

ok, so it's established in stone that paleo types are geeks too. Monty Python?

Russia: Georgian SpecFor Helped Separatists

Russia's domestic spy service on Friday accused Georgia of supporting armed rebels in southern Russia, an accusation that could further damage the strained relations between the two countries.

A source in the Federal Security Service (FSB) told Interfax news agency that a Chechen man working for Georgian intelligence had been giving cash to fighters across the turbulent North Caucasus.

"This confirms that Georgian special forces have participated in subversive terrorist activities in the North Caucasus," Interfax quoted the FSB source as saying.

Russia and Georgia are locked in a row over Georgia's two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia supports. Georgia says war was only narrowly averted earlier this month.

The FSB's claim surfaced just as a Georgian minister was to meet officials from Russia's Foreign Ministry in Moscow to discuss how to repair relations.

A Georgian government spokesman in Tbilisi denied the FSB's accusation, saying: "It's another lie and another provocation from the Russian side."

Yet another accusation, one that if it were true would be cause for war. Seems like Russia is searching for a good reason to pick a fight with the little guy.

Baby Sauropod Trackways

Thursday, May 15, 2008


I picked up a few more books for The Mischief. They're not for fun reading, though, alas. However, I am not grumbling at all for expanding my knowledge.

There were two more programming books. The first was Principles of Real-Time Software Engineering since I've not had a real time software engineering specific reading (or project. hacking, yes, coding, yes, debugging, yes, but never a real SWE PoV). The second book is a copy of Real-Time Systems Development. I wanted to refine a little more on what I remember and what I have been cramming in since November. I am hoping this one helps.

The next one really ought to throw some of you for a loop. It's An Introduction to Celestial Mechanics. I've monkeyed with the equations and such before, but never had a formal reading or class in it. As for how this relates to anything else? Just wait and see. When the website's ready (oy) more will be clear.

All Done

For this semester at least.

I finished my finals today and Lyuda finished hers yesterday.

We. Are. Relieved.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Marching into Georgia

I am awaiting a callback since my last meeting was so amazingly short and can't get myself into too much trouble. Therefore, I felt like I needed to get myself into mischief with posting about Russia! I mean, its been a while since I've written anything about the Russosphere because of the events going on right now in the mischief arena, sooo...

Russia has been making itself into a serious problem. Besides playing games in the gas war, reasserting itself in the near abroad, interjecting itself in the problems with Iran in a most unhelpful manner, and making overtly threatening flights of its nuclear, if admittedly decrepit, bomber force, it is now not just talking about being expansionist with respect to the other formerly USSR republics, its actually making moves to annex at least parts of them. Russia had been making some threats over the various so-called "Frozen Conflicts" in the xUSSR if the West helped Kosovo declare independence. Namely, that they would annex certain chunks: the errant sections of Moldova and Georgia were the primary areas discussed. Additionally, when the Orange Revolution toppled Yanukovich from stealing the election in Ukraine, the eastern, southern, and Crimean parts of Ukraine were mentioned by Russia as parts that would possibly be annexed. For a long time all of this was toothless talk. After all, Kosovo received Taiwanese status: independent and recognized by some, but not all and without a UN seat. When this happened, Russia didn't do anything other than huff and puff. It looked as though Russia's comments that Kosovo would be a pattern to be followed in the "Frozen Conflicts" was just another case of the Russian Bear blowing hot air. However, that seems to have changing. Big time.

The most worrisome from the point of view of the West so far has been Georgia. A few weeks ago Georgia had a drone shot down by a Russian MiG:

The whole thing was rather surprising. When confronted, the Russians stated that it didn't happen, despite the video, and then as seems to be modus operandi for the Russians made several statements that were rather conflicting. First that the West must have staged it. Then that the Abkhazians did it with a SAM. Meanwhile, the Georgians released the tracking data for the MiG...and it flew off into Russian airspace. If that were not troubling enough, the Abkhazians have claimed since then that they have downed two more drones, which the Georgians, interestingly enough, deny.

Probably using this as a pretext, the Russians are now moving thousands more troops into Abkhazia. They have claimed that the Georgians have been massing troops on the intra-Georgian border. Georgia has denied doing so and the UN Observers have backed their claims that only local residents are present. As if that were not enough, Putin signed accords that allowed Russian government ministries to begin operations on Abkhazian soil in a manner that is eerily reminiscent of how they operate in Russia proper. It has already granted Russian passports. When taken all together, along with Russian words, the whole situation smacks of creeping Russian revanchism.

During the Orange Revolution, some Russian politicians were in Ukraine in support of the Yanukovich elements and even in joint statements with the pissy losers stated that the sections of Ukraine that were in support of Yanukovich would secede to be annexed by Russia. It didn't happen and since then Yanukovich ahs shown that he has been and will be more interested in his own power (and possibly pocket book) than truly being a member of the Greater Panrussia. That hasn't stopped the Russian politicians - some of the same and now others that are new, including Putin's circle - from bringing returning to the theme. Especially quite recently over Crimea specifically.

While there might be a cellophane sheet - or would that be a filo sheet? - of pretext for the situation in the breakaway regions of Georgia, there's even less for the table pounding that Russia has been making with respect to Ukraine. There is a nasty little row over Crimea now underway. Important politicians of Russia are now stating the Crimean is 'question' that needs 'resolving' even though there has been multiple treaties over the matter stating the Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine. Putin too has gotten into the act by questioning whether or not Ukraine ought to be a acknowledged as an independent country or at least whether or not it ought to be guaranteed its territorial integrity. While there hasn't been any official action, ie its all been talk, if Russia is moving from talk to action with Georgia, could Ukraine be next?

This is especially worrisome because in both cases Georgia and Ukraine are moving towards NATO membership. They were denied a MAP at the last NATO Summit, yet were promised - perhaps vacuously - that they were going to start down the path of membership very soon. Once they are members any territorial adjustment wrt Russia will be nigh impossible to Russia's advantage since an attack on one member is an attack on all. Therefore, Russia might have decided to make its move now during a window of opportunity that has arisen because of France and Germany's objections to Ukrainian and Georgian membership.

The problem is that the Europeans are making the situation worse. While they are telling Russia not to escalate, Russian forces continue to march. They keep telling the Georgians to cool off too...yet there was never anything that the Georgians could really do: they completely lack the firepower to roust the Russian from their territory. Besides, it's hardly the Georgians that are aggravating the situation either! The one real bit that Europe can do to help Georgia - or Ukraine! - seems to be something they are not willing at this point as whole to do: grant NATO membership. Alas.

Poltiical Cartoon for the Geek in You

Russians claim, again, European Space Development Deal

The Russian and European space agencies have signed a deal to build a six-seat manned spacecraft to travel to the Moon, a Russian space official said Wednesday.

Russian space agency Roskosmos and the European Space Agency "on Tuesday signed an accord on the creation of a manned vessel to transport up to six people around the Earth and to the Moon," Roskosmos spokesman Alexander Vorobyev told AFP.

Testing of the 20-tonne vehicle is due to begin in 2015, with the first launch to take place in 2018 in the planned Vostochny space base in Siberia, Vorobyev said.

hmmm. Sounds a lot like what the Russians said about Kliper.


I wonder why we haven't heard anything from the Europeans? We'll see if this is real or more hot air.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mass Water Buffalo Counter Attack

stating the obvious

Continuing the meme:

Hillary should through in the towel rather than waste the money at this point. All she is doing is hurting her party. Speaking as a Republican, by all means, keep firing away at Obama and making a mess. As an American that would like to see the two "presumptive" nominees contrasting and debating the issues, McCain vs Obama.

Don't believe me? Go play with CNN's Delegate Counter. The best case scenario for Hillary is if she walks away with 80% of tonight, 80% of Kentucky, 50% (and change) of Oregon (but unlikely), and 80% of Puerto Rico. Those are very unrealistic numbers, but even so under that very unrealistic spread Hillary needs 175 of the Democratic Party's superdelegates to get the nomination. Obama? 85. The more realistic scenario forces Hillary to get nearly 200 superdelegates to Obama's 60 or less.

There are 241 remaining at this point.

Barring vast stupidity on the part of Obama's campaign, or the Clintons' doing some deep dark magic with the super delegates, this is all but done.

I don't think Clinton is intentionally damaging the party, fwiw. She's just stubborn and really wants to be Prez.

Now we need a Veep check, please.

(hat-tip to Carlos)

13th Annual CCSM Workshop: Paleoclimate Presentations

I am not going to go for the reasons mentioned and also the run-in a few years ago, but for those that are interested, here's an agenda of the presentations that have been planned so far for the paleoclimate section:

Simulating the Latest Ordovician with CCSM3
Christine Shields NCAR

Cloud Properties and Warm Poles: Simulations of the
P/T and PETM Boundaries
Jeff Kiehl NCAR

Mesoscale modeling of the Eocene ice-free Arctic
Daniel Kirk-Davidoff U. Maryland

A GCM Reconstruction of the Last Glacial Inception
Megan Essig U. Nebraska-Lincoln

Climate Model Tests of the Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis
Steve Vavrus U. Wisconsin

Simulating Transient Climate Evolution of the last 21,000 years with CCSM3
(TraCE-21,000): A Progress Report
Feng He U. Wisconsin

Climatic Impacts of the Largest Volcanic Eruption of the Last Millennium
David Schneider NCAR

Atlantic SST influences on mega-droughts in North American: A Case Study
on the Medieval Warm Period
Song Feng U. Nebraska-Lincoln

The Role of ENSO in Regulating the Mean Climate of the Tropical Pacific
De-Zheng Sun NOAA

That was the text of an email sent out to the ccsm-paleoclimate mailing list by Dr Jeffrey Kiehl. He was soliciting a few more presentations. I would like to live-blog this, but I am hesitant. For multiple reasons.

Monday, May 12, 2008


This post spawned out of reading Continents and Supercontinents which I picked up via Amazon. It was a good, if a bit higher in its expectations of the reader than the average book: it out right states its intended for grad students and pros in the geo field. The reason that I picked it up was to try to understand, at least a bit more, what-how-why supercontinents form and the consequences of their existence. I got a bit of that. I get the distinct feeling that studying the past supercontinents is really a newish affair and still hasn't reached the level of detail I'd hoped for. That said, I did get some rather juicy bits I thought I would share.

The first of those is the cycle that seems to exist for supercontinents that at least to date appears to hold true. Whether it will in the future or not, I cannot say. The book did discuss the future of supercontinents in the form of Amasia - we'll get to that later - but not whether or not the cycle supercontinents go through would slow or stop as the planet 'ages' and cools. So what is the cycle? Supercontinents seem to go through three distinct periods: assembly, existence, and fragmentation. The assembly period takes 500 million years! The existence appears to last a mere 100 million years. Fragmentation takes another 200 million years. It appears to be have been presented in papers in the past as the supercontinent cycle. This cycle has been observed in the geological record at least three times with high levels of confidence and once more at least being suspected.

The first time that we suspect that the assembly, existence, and fragmentation of a supecontinent happened was so far in the past that it is considered very sketchy as far as the evidence is concerned and as a consequence is at least moderately controversial. At least more so than the other supecontinents that have been proposed so far. Unfortunately, this earliest of supercontinents remains unnamed at this point but it is believed to have existed in the Late Archean and early Proterozoic. This supercontinent was proposed only recently (2003) and so is still being debated and fleshed out.

The second supercontinent, moving forward in time, was Columbia. This supercontinent achieved its largest size supposedly around 1.6 billion years ago during the Statherian.

The third supercontinent was Rodinia. Clocking in during the Tonian and Cryogenian, Rodinia started forming 1.3 billion years ago and lasted until 800 million years ago when it too began to rift. Interestingly, this is one of the most controversial supercontinents, but I am a bit at a loss as to why. I suspect that it is because of the proposed relations to the Snowball Earth hypothesis - and the suggestion that supercontinents are the source of ice house climates - but that's just a guess.

The last true past supercontinent that the book talks about is Pangaea. This one assembled and then rifted during the Triassic. The height of its glory was really in the Permian though and the frustrations that it visited on paleontologists due to its less than friendly environment that it created for fossil preservation is quite well known. It ought to be noted that Gondwana was a fragment of Pangaea and ought to be considered as such. More or less.

Amasia was the only supercontinent of the future that was talked about at all. This would be the assembly of a new supercontinent by North America colliding with Asia while Australia, Africa and South America continue their marches north. Amasia is based on the premise that the Atlantic will continue to expand and the Pacific will be ultimately swallowed up. This is in contrast the the Pangaea Ultima proposal such as Dr Scotese's.

Anyways, there are some notes from reading. It was an interesting if a bit more demanding than I expected (but not too difficult). I do recommend picking it up, but I do recommend keeping wikipedia and a geological dictionary handy. Oh, one nasty bit aimed at the publisher: the cover is frakkin upside down. I take the dust jackets off since they get ripped up and you have no idea how often I mistakenly picked it up title up. grr.

Friday, May 09, 2008


That would be the Raytheon version (snagged from the Danger Room).

This latter one is from the guys that did the BLEEX work at UC Berkeley but now as a spin off company (Berkeley Bionics). The stuff they show for the latter as far as mobility goes is pretty darned impressive. They just don't have the upper body segment at this point unlike the Raytheon guys.

Now we just need to armor these things and...

ahem. No personal hobby horses involved here. Move along, move along.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Research on the Dessication of the Sahara

(Lake Yoa via NatGeo)
The grassy prehistoric Sahara turned into Earth's largest hot desert more slowly than previously thought, a new report says—and some say global warming may turn the desert green once again.

The new research is based on deposits from a unique desert lake in remote northern Chad.

Lake Yoa, sustained by prehistoric groundwater, has survived for millennia despite constant drought and searing heat.

The body of water contains an unbroken climate record going back at least 6,000 years, said study lead author Stefan Kröpelin of the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Cologne in Germany.

Ancient pollen, insects, algae, and other fossil clues preserved in the lake's sediments point to a gradual transformation to a desert environment.

The study contradicts past research that suggested the region dried up within a few hundred years. That research was based on windblown Saharan dust found in Atlantic Ocean sediments.

"This was a hypothesis used by most of the modelers and many of the scientific community who were not working themselves in the Sahara," Kröpelin said.

"To a large degree we can now show that such an abrupt drying out of the Sahara was a myth," he said.

The new study, which appears tomorrow in the journal Science, instead found evidence for a slow decline in tropical plants, followed by the gradual loss of savanna-type grasslands, and then the eventual spread of desert species.

Pollen samples revealed, for example, that the decrease in tropical trees accelerated after 4,800 years ago, while desert plants took root between 3,900 and 3,100 years ago.

A related, ealier paper's abstract is here.

Koehle suggests at the end of the NatGeo article that with global warming happening and absed on some data from the eastern Sahara that it will end up greening again due to increased rain fall from increased evaporation. It would be interesting if that happened since most of the climate sims I have seen have indicated that Africa as a whole is going to get drier. Then again, the tropical cells are on the move north and we may see the tropics move up and decrease the desert latitudes nontrivially.

That's thinking out loud, btw.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Platypus Genome Published...and Analyzed

Animal's reptilian-mammalian mix reflected in its DNA

The first analysis of the genome sequence of the duck-billed platypus was published today by an international team of scientists, revealing clues about how genomes were organized during the early evolution of mammals. The research was supported in part by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


n a paper published in today’s issue of the journal Nature, researchers analyzed a high-quality draft genome sequence of Glennie, a female platypus from Australia. The consortium included scientists from the United States, Australia, England, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Spain. Sequencing of the platypus genome was led by the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a part of NHGRI’s Large-Scale Sequencing Research Network.

Once the sequence was produced, researchers began comparing the genome of the platypus, whose ancestors split from the rest of mammalian lineage some 166 million years ago, with the well-characterized genomes of the human, mouse, dog, opossum and chicken, as well as the draft genome sequence of the green anole lizard. The chicken genome was chosen because it is descended from the ancestral group of egg-laying animals, including extinct reptiles, which passed on much of their DNA to animals like the platypus. Scientists were particularly interested in finding features within the platypus genome that could explain the odd mix of characteristics seen in the platypus, those that were more like reptile and birds and which were like mammals.

The team found that the platypus genome contains about the same number of protein-coding genes as other mammals -- approximately 18,500. The platypus also shares more than 80 percent of its genes with other mammals whose genomes have been sequenced. Next, researchers combed the platypus genome looking for genetic evidence of sequences unique to platypuses, which have been lost from mammalian genomes. Scientists were also eager to find out what characteristics of the platypus were linked at the DNA level to reptiles or mammals.

“The mix of reptilian, mammalian and unique characteristics of the platypus genome provides many clues to the function and evolution of all mammalian genomes,” said Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of Washington University School of Medicine’s Genome Sequencing Center and the paper’s senior author. “Now, we’ll be able to pinpoint genes that have been conserved throughout evolution, as well as those that have been lost or gained.”

Alright, first argh: mix of reptilian, mammalian and unique...that hurt to read. As we all now know, mammals did not evolve from reptiles. They both came from basal amniotes. That said there are some interesting bits of information that have come out.

First, platypus venom is genetically encoded in the same way as in diapsids: through gene duplication of the same genes. This seems to be a case of parallel evolution - so say the paper authors - rather than conserved basal genes.

Second, its RNA evolution is...interesting. There seems to be I am wholly unqualified to comment though.

Third, the sex detemination genes for the platypi have de nada to do with XY chromosomes. That's a therian...thing. Instead, their sex chromosomes share extensive homology to those of birds.” Waters notes that this finding suggests our ancient mammal-like reptile ancestor may have had bird-like sex chromosomes and sex determination system.

Then...well...nuts. Go read it yourself.

Here's a link with all of the above.

This has a lot of exciting potential for uncovering some of the basal traits for the therapsids and, indeed, the ancestral amniotes. Based on this and previous studies it seems highly likely that the therapsids were egg layers and had a sex determination system that was inherited from the amniote ancestors. I am stoked that they have looked at least a bit at the echidna genome and I hope that the same sort of analysis will be conducted there too relatively soon.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Couldn't Resist

Uber Climate HPC Platform


Towards Ultra-High Resolution Models of Climate and Weather

Michael Wehner

CRD/NERSC, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA 94720

Leonid Oliker

CRD/NERSC, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA 94720,

John Shalf

CRD/NERSC, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA 94720

We present a speculative extrapolation of the performance aspects of an atmospheric general circulation model to ultra-high resolution and describe alternative technological paths to realize integration of such a model in the relatively near future. Due to a superlinear scaling of the computational burden dictated by stability criterion, the solution of the equations of motion dominate the calculation at ultra-high resolutions. From this extrapolation, it is estimated that a credible kilometer scale atmospheric model would require at least a sustained ten petaflop computer to provide scientifically useful climate simulations. Our design study portends an alternate strategy for practical power-efficient implementations of petaflop scale systems. Embedded processor technology could be exploited to tailor a custom machine designed to ultra-high climate model specifications at relatively affordable cost and power considerations. The major conceptual changes required by a kilometer scale climate model are certain to be difficult to implement. Although the hardware, software, and algorithms are all equally critical in conducting ultra-high climate resolution studies, it is likely that the necessary petaflop computing technology will be available in advance of a credible kilometer scale climate model.

The full paper is here. The Pop sci version is here. The Press release version is here.

That's Mike whom I have collaborated with for the SC05 Tri Challenge where we ran a copy of CAM on bassi, reduced the data on PDSF, and visualized it on a system that was based in Seattle that is very similar to davinci while using a wide area instance of GPFS as the only method of communication. It worked okay, but that was because we hit a bug. Alas. That same bug would come out and nail us a few weeks later at work. We did win a prize and some very nice recognition for the effort though.

That said, because of my mischief I have been attending conferences for embedded and real-time coding that have de nada to do with work. Or so it was planned. After all, I work in HPC with an emphasis on file systems. My research interests there are wide area file systems, on demand system aggregation, and the odd bit of paleoclimate work (emphasis Permian). The Mischief has de nada to do with that, as I said. Well, it turns out that NERSC & LBNL in general is making a push to make a raid on the next set of commodity computing parts and I had walked into the middle of it all. Yep, you guessed it, the embedded chip guys: those chips that run in your cell phones or printer or even in your car.

You see, what's killing PCs and everything higher is the economics of it all: single CPUs are pretty flat for processor speed. They're not getting faster. There are a few single core CPUs left that are making any progress doing faster computation: the power and heat requirements are killing them. Ever notice that the CPU of the 386 didn't require that monster fan you have on your current x86? Ever think about that power supply? Now we have hit the point where power consumption (and the heat dissipation associated with it) are now growing faster than the computational speed. The answer was to start adding cores onto the chip.

Starting a few years back, the chip companies started putting more and more cores on a single "CPU." Really these were more like multiple CPUs on the same silicon real estate than anything else. However, they were tied together more closely than the older SMPs. However, the cores tend to be 'simpler' than the one CPUs before. One reason being to save power. In some ways this strikes me as very amusing. It's like revenge of the RISC. Even so, the costs of developing those chips for the CPU monsters is still obscene.

Think rocket cost and then some. I can't share a lot of what I know, but I will just blurb that its shocking. I'll also say I have to tread carefully here due to NDAisms. (oy)

So why is the HPC world - or at least LBL - interested in the embedded products? One: cost. The cost of developing an embedded chip is cheaper. By a lot. Second is power consumption. Now, your desktop might consume a good 500 watts. In an oversimplification, Franklin has 9k sockets with 2 cores per socket. If you were to merely scale up the power requirements: you're talking 4.5 megawatts there for a 100 teraflop system. Not Good. Then for a petaflop system do at least a 10x. Now consider the next 'frontier:' the exaflop system. Yes, 1000x the speed of the systems not yet built (but coming in the next year or two). Yep. That power requirement kills the exaflop system based on current or extrapolated PC/server processor tech.

The embedded guys are very concerned if the processors start using more than single digit watts. Our guys were intrigued by that and started plying with the concept. I wasn't involved at all until quite recently. Even now I am only involved to a degree: I happen to have contacts that the Lab would like to use. They already have when we pulled an Intel embedded chip architect I connected to at a conference I was invited to by one of my mischief sponsors. What I have learned about their plans for the nextgen supercomputer is rather interesting.

John, Mike, and Lenny's design for the above is to develop a HPC platform that is cheaper, tailored to a specific application but able to run others, and fast. Really fast. The goal for the above was an exaflop according to the presentations I was at for this. The whole idea was to be able to simulate a 1 km grid for the CCSM climate simulations. It would allow for accurate cloud simulations which is something they can only approximate now. The power consumption and the cost of the machine would be far, far lower than now. The design they talked about was...interesting.

One of the key ideas though is the transition from single core to multicore and then the projected, in the center's opinion, to manycore. They are expecting around 1024 cores per chip, but much, much smaller and simpler cores. Consider that you put together 64 of those chips and you have a machine witha s many cores as the old CM2-64k that I used back in the early 90s. 256 of these chips and you would have more cores than in the Blue Gene at LLNL. (note: it wouldn't be as fast, but far cheaper and less power consumptive). The proposal though is that John, Mike, and Lenny have proposed that the machine they want would have 170,000 sockets and each with a chip not too dissimilar to what I outlined above living in that socket. o.O

That is not to say I don't have my worries. I am not working largely as the application guy. I do dabble in it. I do have interest there. Programming models that scale past 1k cores are not very common now. What would need 170k sockets? let alone the cores therein. In fact, there are a nontrivial number of 'supercomputer users' that really don't belong on our machines anymore. They just need a cluster of medium to small size in their department rather than the big iron we have. Now try to imagine those few that are actually able to use our monster here. Not very many. In this case, the machine was designed with the use of one code only and the others can run on it as they can.

However, I have to think about the times I spend on rotation too here. If we were to acquire one of those ubersocketed monsters, then there would be a constant rain of dead or dying processors even in the lightest weight of nodes. Even with a 99.999% reliability you are still going to have nearly two nodes down at a time. That's not so good to have to deal with. Now, about all that memory too...

There's much more to go on, but I don't have time at the moment. I have yet another dreaded meeting. bah. Just ponder what they are talking about when they talk supercomputers of the future and that infernal Singularity nonsense.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Now About that 65 Million Year Old Carbon Layer!

he asteroid presumed to have wiped out the dinosaurs struck the Earth with such force that carbon deep in the Earth's crust liquefied, rocketed skyward, and formed tiny airborne beads that blanketed the planet, say scientists from the U.S., U.K., Italy, and New Zealand in this month's Geology.

The beads, known to geologists as carbon cenospheres, cannot be formed through the combustion of plant matter, contradicting a hypothesis that the cenospheres are the charred remains of an Earth on fire. If confirmed, the discovery suggests environmental circumstances accompanying the 65-million-year-old extinction event were slightly less dramatic than previously thought.

"Carbon embedded in the rocks was vaporized by the impact, eventually forming new carbon structures in the atmosphere," said Indiana University Bloomington geologist Simon Brassell, study coauthor and former adviser to the paper's lead author, Mark Harvey.

The carbon cenospheres were deposited 65 million years ago next to a thin layer of the element iridium -- an element more likely to be found in Solar System asteroids than in the Earth's crust. The iridium-laden dust is believed to be the shattered remains of the 200-km-wide asteroid's impact. Like the iridium layer, the carbon cenospheres are apparently common. They've been found in Canada, Spain, Denmark and New Zealand.

But the cenospheres' origin presented a double mystery. The cenospheres had been known to geologists only as a sign of modern times -- they form during the intense combustion of coal and crude oil. Equally baffling, there were no power plants burning coal or crude oil 65 million years ago, and natural burial processes affecting organic matter from even older ages -- such as coals from the 300-million-year-old Carboniferous Period -- had simply not been cooked long or hot enough.

"Carbon cenospheres are a classic indicator of industrial activity," Harvey said. "The first appearance of the carbon cenospheres defines the onset of the industrial revolution."

The scientists concluded the cenospheres could have been created by a new process, the violent pulverization of the Earth's carbon-rich crust.

For a time it was thought this carbon layer was a sign of a global conflagration: the asteroid impact incinerated the world, essentially. However, they ought to be more large chunks of charcoal scattered about the KT Boundary. AFAIK, this hasn't been found, except in a few places, yet there was this fine layer of carbon made of cenospheres more globally. That was odd because as far as we knew, these could only be made through industrial processes. What the researchers are proposing here is that Chicxulub Impact event vaporized a lot of carbon rich content (oil, iirc) and that was spread across the world. The suggestion is that the impact would be able to generate the cenospheres. Interestingly, the cenosphere mass distribution centered their origin on the Chicxulub Crater: the closer the researchers sampled to the crater, the heavier the cenospheres became.

It makes for an interesting - and difficult - item for the vulcanists to explain unless there were tons of exposed coal fields in the path of the lava flows...they'd have to be exposed only at the time of the KT boundary being laid down - not before! not after! - since the Deccan Traps erupted for a long time (over 2 million years). Furthermore, why it'd be centered on Chicxulub is even more difficult to explain.

Now seriousness aside, if the only way we have seen is to produce the cenospheres by industrial methods...sounds like an sf book plot not yet written! Y'know, if you ignore some important science bits. Unless, of course, the lone sapient dinosaurian city was centered on Chicxulub and the impact was an alien race's way of wiping out a future problem. hmmmm...

Small Delay

Sorry to play the tease. We're getting there. I've handed off the website to someone else to tinker with the code for the next few days. When he's done, the website will go up. Sorry for the delay.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Diapsid MOLESTED by Vicious Synapsid

An Antarctic fur seal has been observed trying to have sex with a king penguin.

The South African-based scientists who witnessed the incident say it is the most unusual case of mammal mating behaviour yet known.

The incident, which lasted for 45 minutes and was caught on camera, is reported in the Journal of Ethology.

The bizarre event took place on a beach on Marion Island, a sub-Antarctic island that is home to both fur seals and king penguins.

Why the seal attempted to have sex with the penguin is unclear. But the scientists who photographed the event speculate that it was the behaviour of a frustrated, sexually inexperienced young male seal.

Equally, it might be been an aggressive, predatory act; or even a playful one that turned sexual.

"At first glimpse, we thought the seal was killing the penguin," says Nico de Bruyn, of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

The brazenness of the seal's behaviour left those who saw it in no doubt as to what was happening.

De Bruyn and a colleague were on Trypot beach at Marion Island to study elephant seals when they noticed a young, adult male Antarctic fur seal, in good condition, attempting to copulate with an adult king penguin of unknown sex.


Antarifornication doesn't roll that well off the tongue.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Thought

Disasters are opportunities with fangs.

Fox News Frak Up: Lincoln-Douglass Debate Pic

oh. ouch. It was impossible for a Black Man in 1860 to be running for President. Really. Fox didn't catch this?! N/m the very famous Lincoln-Douglass debates were with a different Douglass too.

*stunned bunny look*

New Tower Development in San Francisco

Manhattanization is a foregone conclusion at this point.

Small Update Teaser

The website will go live (as in having real info) either on Sunday or Monday.