Thursday, February 28, 2013

A final sex post for the month

As I've written before about this month's theme, all I need to do is pick a video from Discovery News.  To close out this month, I'm doing exactly that with The Weirdest Animal Penises.

The diversity of evolution: it's downright amazing, and we're not just talkin' wings and eyeballs- we're talkin' animal penises! Trace takes us on a tour of the animal kingdom's boxer shorts.
I already wrote about barnacles in Barnacles show that "nature finds a way", but I just happen to have an article about another example from Matt Kaplan in Nature who wrote Sea slug loses penis after sex but grows another the next day.
Invertebrate may discard organ like a dirty needle to avoid carrying competitors' sperm.

The astounding warning colours of the nudibranchs, a diverse group of sea slugs, are certainly enough to attract attention — but even they pale in comparison to the gripping news that one species of the soft-bodied molluscs has a habit of discarding its penis.

Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites, meaning that they carry both male and female reproductive organs. Moreover, when they mate, they can perform the male role of donating sperm and the female role of receiving sperm at the same time. This process involves two penises and two vagina-like organs, and sperm transmission effectively happens simultaneously during the encounter.

This is a relatively standard arrangement among nudibranchs, so the creatures' sexual organs might all be expected to look roughly the same. But the animals show incredible sex-organ diversity, and it was during an exploration of this diversity in the species Chromodoris reticulata that researchers made their jaw-dropping discovery.
What do you expect from someone who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation about self-fertilization in snails?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More on the science of trolling

The subject I explored in Who's hiding under the bridge of an online science article? is back.  For anyone who knows trolls and trolling, this should come as no surprise.

First, Discovery News puts in their two cents about trolls in Inside the Brains of Internet Trolls.

Internet Trolls- We've all seen 'em throwing around insults and taking over message boards. But what drives these people? Trace goes troll hunting and finds out.
Paul Basken of The Chronicle of Higher Education has more to say about the effects of trolls on discorse in How Rude! Reader Comments May Undermine Scientists’ Authority
Boston — Scientists have a hard enough time getting people to understand what they’re talking about.

Their thoughts can be complicated. Their sentences can be laden with jargon. And their conclusions can offend political or religious sensibilities.

And now, to make things worse, readers have an immediate forum to talk back. And when some readers post uncivil comments at the bottom of online articles, that alone can raise doubts about the underlying science, a new study has found. Or at least reinforce those doubts.
Scientific American has a commentary on this article in More on rudeness, civility, and the care and feeding of online conversations.

Unfortunately, none of these sources have anything to say about trolls who are also Agents.  Too bad, as a lot of them are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Obama loved science in the State of the Union

Discovery News gushed over the science in the speech in Obama Loves Science.

President Obama made scientific advancement a key part of his State of the Union speech. Trace had his eyes glued to the television and gives us the science-centric highlights.
Fred Guterl of Scientific American examined the content in more detail in Obama Takes Aim at Climate Change, Cyber Security
After a campaign that avoided climate change like the plague, President Barack Obama gave a State of the Union speech that put climate change on center stage. Early in the speech he encouraged law makers to revisit cap-and-trade as a way of tackling emissions of greenhouse gases.
Obama peppered his State of the Union speech with references to several big science and technology issues. He called attention to the threat of cyber warfare and the need to protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyber attacks. Obama singled out the power grid, financial networks and air traffic control as being vulnerable to sabotage. Earlier in the day he signed an executive order to increase information sharing and set security standards, but on the podium he called on Congress to pass legislation “to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.”

Obama went out of his way several times to make jobs and national competitiveness into issues of science policy.
As I repeated in Science, climate, and energy in the Inaugural Address, President Obama really likes the idea of sustainable development packaged as making America competitive, and his State of the Union address reinforced that meme.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The politics of grocery shopping

At Kunstler's blog, I promised to post something about the politics of grocery shopping.  It's been a week, so it's time to follow through.

LiveScience: Democrat or Republican ... Who Buys Generic?
Chad Brooks, BusinessNewsDaily Contributor
Date: 14 February 2013 Time: 09:37 AM ET
Conservatives and liberals are as different when choosing groceries as they are when choosing political sides, new research finds.

The study, led by researcher Vishal Singh of New York University, discovered a relationship between political affiliation and buying behavior, suggesting that ideological differences are reflected in daily behavior, even at the unconscious level.

Researchers analyzed weekly sales data from more than 1,800 supermarkets across the United States between 2001 and 2006. Using statistics on voting history and religiosity - factors that are independently correlated with conservative values - they were able to determine the level of conservatism in each county.
Conservatives preferred established brands, while liberals were more likely to buy both generics and new brands.  I guess I know the shopping habits of the delegates to the two major party conventions this past weekend.

Speaking of the food choices of liberals and conservatives, both agree that there is a significant difference between processed and organic food.  That means that they might find common ground in this study by ten TV stations, reported by WXYZ and WCPO.  WXYZ comes first with Putting organic foods to the test.

While WXYZ did OK with their presentation of this study, WCPO missed the point of organic food in What is organic food?

9 On Your Side investigates the organic food at your local market.
This shows how different people can interpret and present the same results very differently.

On the other hand, both decried the lack of testing for organic produce.  I was surprised that no testing has been done, even though the standards have been in place for 20 years.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar hype, with emphasis on science fiction, fantasy, and local subjects

ABC talks about the usual suspects for the top awards in Oscars 2013 Preview: Winners, Losers and Upsets.

Chris Connelly previews the Academy Awards ceremony.

Of the top five awards, the only one I'm officially rooting for is Jennifer Lawrence, not on the strength of her acting in "Silver Linings Playbook," which, other than the sustainability theme of mental health parity, is not really on topic for this blog, but for her leading role in "The Hunger Games."  I like the idea of top-flight actors in genre films.

Speaking of genre films, there are two fantasies up for Best Picture and Best Direction, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Life of Pi," but both of them could best be described as magical realism.  That's not my favorite fantastic subgenre, so I'd rather root for the historical dramas of "Argo," "Lincoln," or even "Zero Dark Thirty," even if Al Jazeera English has legitimate reservations about at least two of them.

History, nature, violence and love make up some of the heady ingredients of the films at this year's Academy Awards in Hollywood.But as always, it's not without controversy. One film, 'Zero Dark Thirty', a Best Picture nominee, is being criticised for distorting the role of torture played in tracking down the Al Qaeda leader. The historical accuracy of another film, 'Argo' , is also questioned. The 85th Oscars spectacle also features the oldest and youngest nominees for Best Actress. Al Jazeera's Rob Reynolds reports from Hollywood.
On the other hand, the animated nominees are rich in fantasy, science fiction, and horror.  My favorite so far is "Brave," but I bet I'd get a kick out of "Frankenweenie," as my wife and I own a pair of dachshunds.  I also have a favorite among the animated short subjects, "Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare.'"  I marched with the film's director/producer David Silverman in the UCLA Band, where he and I played tuba together.

At this place in the nominee list come the five nominations for Skyfall, Cinematography, Original Music Score, Original Song, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.  The nominators at least think the movie looked and sounded great, regardless of what they thought of the direction, acting, and script.

The two Snow White movies, "Mirror Mirror" and "Snow White and the Huntsman," are competing for Best Costume Design.  I enjoyed the latter more than the former, but I suspect the two will probably cancel each other out, letting one of the period films defeat both fantasies.

I've already talked about the documentary feature nominees in Crazy Eddie at the Movies 3--"Searching for Sugar Man" favored to win an Oscar.  As for the documentary and live-action fiction short subjects, I don't have an opinion.  Nor do I have one for Foreign Language film or Editing.

As for Make-up and Hair Styling, I'm rooting for the first installment of "The Hobbit."  It's the only genre film nominated for the category.  It also shares a nomination for Production Design with "Life of Pi."

If one is looking for a category in which genre films dominate, it's Visual Effects, where all five nominees are science fiction and fantasy (I'm including comic books as fantasy).  Both "The Hobbit" and "Life of Pi" are there, along with "The Avengers," "Prometheus," and "Snow White and The Huntsman."  I'd be happy with any of them.

The two magical realism films, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Life of Pi," also have nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, although I think they'll lose to one of "Lincoln," "Argo," or "Silver Linings Playbook."  As for Best Original Screenplay, my favorite is "Moonrise Kingdom."  As soon as I saw that movie, I knew it would be nominated for an Oscar, although I didn't know which.

That's it for my Oscar opinions.  Happy viewing and may the fantasy and science fiction films, including "Skyfall," make a great showing tonight.

Lon Johnson elected new MDP chair after a tense and spirited convention

I spent yesterday at the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Convention, which is why I posted nothing after midnight.  I have my own observations, but I'll let the media have their say first, beginning with this video report from WOOD-TV.

Mark Brewer on Saturday withdrew from the race for party chairman at the state Democratic Party convention in Detroit. He said he wishes challenger Lon Johnson all the best.

Brewer announced his decision to thousands of delegates rather than continue an uphill climb to retain his seat after unions and Michigan's Democratic congressional delegation got behind Johnson. Brewer said he wishes Johnson all the best.
I was sitting in the front rows when this happened.  I was both surprised and relieved, surprised because Brewer had given all the signs of fighting up to the bitter end, relieved because it got me the result I wanted deep down without leading to conflict and inflaming old wounds.  Instead, the MDP could say nice things about both Brewer and Johnson while looking forward to a better era, at least for now.

Speaking of old wounds, the Detroit Free Press included the airing of old grievances at caucus meeting I attended, one that began the night before.
A nasty credentials fight Friday night went Johnson’s way, but it burst into a heated exchange Saturday between U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak and a Johnson supporter, and Ed Bruley, Macomb County Democratic Party chairman and a Brewer supporter.

Levin accused the Brewer camp of lying and Bruley said the UAW was muscling its way into sustained power by rigging the rules.

“It’s not fair when a major organization wants to dominate so heavily that they change the rules because they have the votes at a particular meeting,” Bruley said.

With Brewer’s entourage playing bagpipes outside the 9th congressional caucus meeting, Levin delivered a blistering rebuke.

“Don’t give me this damned stuff about changing the rules,” Levin said. “The rules says you don’t have to pay in order to be a member of this party. We don’t have a poll tax in this party.”

After the shouting died down, Levin called for unity in the party, but one of Brewer’s supporters shouted, “It’s too late.”
I had no idea about the fight between Bruley and Levin the night before, but it explains what I witnessed, which went beyond an argument between Bruley and Levin to one between Bruley and Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel.  Hackel recounted how Brewer did not support him for Sheriff or County Executive the first times he ran for both offices, which led to an angry rebuttal from Bruley.

This altercation explains why I was relieved that Brewer withdrew, as all these grudges against Brewer that have accumulated over the past 18 years would have erupted on the floor.  It's bad enough hearing the that leader of Macomb County's Democratic Party had issues with the County Executive and the Democratic U.S. Representative for his county; I didn't need to hear more.  I learned enough to conclude that not only is all politics local, it's personal, too.

At least the MDP avoided a floor fight and adjourned early.  The Republicans had a very closely contested election for their state party chair between Bobby Schostak and former State Board of Education candidate Todd Courser.  Schostak held on to his chairmanship by only 52% to Tea Party favorite Courser's 48%.  That was the good news, as much as someone relatively sane won.*  The bad news is that the convention supported Right to Work and changing the allocation of the state's electoral college votes.  However, neither of those is really a surprise.

*I concluded article on educational boards with a recommendation.
I recommend reading the City Pulse's endorsement editorial. It lists their favorite candidates from the top of the ticket to the bottom. The editorial writer is both mean and funny. I quoted some of the best lines both here and in Proposal endorsements of alternative weeklies favor change over status quo. They're both scathing and hilarious.
Here is what City Pulse had to say about Courser and his fellow Tea Party candidates.
But the nominations of fruit loop Jeff Sawka and what-can-I-run-for-today Rob Steele along with X-Files cast members Jeff Courser (Mulder) and Melanie Kurdys (Scully) is so frightening, we can understand why a voter would give up bothering to pick through this sad lot and go straight Democratic.
As I wrote, Schostak looks sane compared to his competition, who nearly won.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Crazy Eddie at the Movies 4--the science fiction in Skyfall becomes science fact

In the previous installment of Crazy Eddie at the Movies, I promised more on the latest Bond flick.
Last night, my wife and I watched "Skyfall," an experience that deserves a post of its own.
I have lots to say about the movie, but tonight I'll stick with what I've said before about James Bond being science fiction.
[T]he James Bond movies, even more so than the books, qualify, as they are really science fiction films set 20 minutes into the future.  Better yet, the films both celebrate the latest technology and explore in a very escapist fashion a current technological, scientific, or even environmental issue that is a source of societal anxiety.
How do the films celebrate the latest technology?  Surprisingly, the answer is "sparingly."  Yes, there is a lot of high-tech glitz in the background when Bond is working in Shanghai and Q has his moments as he plays around with the network at MI6 and gives 007 a Walther PPK with palmprint identification, which saves Bond's life later on, but the movie actually makes a point of highlighting the virtues of lower technology.  Q even hangs a lampshade on it by saying “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don't really go in for that any more.”

On the other hand, the technological anxiety is explored in spades.  In this case, it's the use of computers as devices for "counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge, and extortion," all of which play a part in "Skyfall."  Mostly, this takes the form of outright technological theft (the movie begins with a chase after someone who just stole a hard drive), hacking, and psychological warfare including via social media (YouTube makes an uncredited appearance).  All of this makes a great splash, but in the end the lower tech wins the day.

That's all Hollywood.  In the real world, computer hacking can be used just as much for straight intelligence as for the purposes above and by state actors as well as the non-state-affiliated villains who populate the world of James Bond.  Follow over the fold for videos depicting the latest example of how this works, as China has been accused of espionage by spearphishing and social engineering this week.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chasing Ice

I mentioned "Chasing Ice" when I wrote about "Skyfall" winning best song at the Golden Globes.  With the Oscars coming up Sunday night, it's time to post about the movie, or at least the clips I've seen online about it.

I begin with a clip I'm going to add to my lectures in Geology and Environmental Science.  In the former, it's to illustrate how icebergs form.  In the latter, it's to show the effects of climate change.  Either way, the largest glacier calving ever filmed is going to make a powerful impression.

On May 28, 2008, Adam LeWinter and Director Jeff Orlowski filmed a historic breakup at the Ilulissat Glacier in Western Greenland. The calving event lasted for 75 minutes and the glacier retreated a full mile across a calving face three miles wide. The height of the ice is about 3,000 feet, 300-400 feet above water and the rest below water.
In addition to the science of the movie, "Chasing Ice" is an award winner and nominee.
Chasing Ice won the award for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and the Best Documentary from the International Press Association. It has won over 30 awards at festivals worldwide.
"CHASING ICE" is NOMINATED for an Academy Award: Best Original Song "Before My Time" by J. Ralph featuring Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell.
Here is the official music video.

It's music for a better cause than "Skyfall," but I like the latter song and especially the performance better, even if "Before My Time" includes the line "keep calm and carry on."

Gas price rollercoaster returns to $4 level

In Up like a rocket again, I concluded my intro with an example of ignorance is bliss.
$4.00/gallon gasoline?  I haven't seen that, but I haven't left the house yet.
That was only a few days ago, but I have seen gas at that price, although not nearby.  The corner station is still selling regular for $3.85, as are the three stations a few blocks away.  I should consider myself and my neighbors lucky.

WXYZ thinks the February price rise will be an annual event and summarizes the causes.

I'm afraid WXYZ is right, as this annual pattern is one that existed before the 2005-2008 surge in prices; it just happened later, usually in March.  The good news is that they expect the price to drop by April, then rise again by Memorial Day.  I'll keep all of you readers posted.

WNWO-TV adds to local coverage of Russian meteor

In Coverage of the meteor on the local news, I included clips from three of the four local and regional stations I follow on YouTube, WXYZ in Detroit, WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, and WCPO in Cincinnati.  Today, the fourth one, WNWO-TV in Toledo, finally added its take on the event in Local reaction to meteorite dangers.

People's eyes are to the skies following the cosmic collision in Russia when a meteorite blew up in the day time skies on Friday.

This has raised the question of just how safe are we from meteors and asteroids hurdling towards earth.
Adam Mann of Wired details one way of moving Earth-crossing objects so they don't collide with us in How to Deflect Killer Asteroids With Spray Paint
A fresh paint job might be all that’s needed to prevent a giant asteroid from raining destruction upon our planet.

Though strange-sounding, the strategy would make use of a real-world phenomenon known as the Yarkovsky effect, named for the Russian engineer who discovered it in 1902. The effect results from the fact that asteroids heat up as they bask in the sun’s light.

“The coat of paint would be a very thin, almost like a Saran Wrap layer,” said aerospace engineer David Hyland of Texas A&M, who leads a team that has been studying this method for several years. “If we push it in the right direction, we can get the asteroid to cease crossing Earth’s orbit and completely eliminate the threat.”
That qualifies as an answer to the reporter's query about non-Bruce Willis/Deep Impact ways of solving the problem, one I'm all in favor of.  As I wrote over at Kunstler's blog Monday:
There are more ways for civilization to end than resource depletion and pollution, and an asteroid impact is one of them. Just in case modern technological civilization does survive the Long Emergency, preparing for such an event might be a good idea.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Crazy Eddie at the Movies 3--"Searching for Sugar Man" favored to win an Oscar

Last night, my wife and I watched "Skyfall," an experience that deserves a post of its own.  However, that's not what tonight's entry is about.  Instead, it's about "Searching for Sugar Man."  According to the BBC, this film about Detroit singer Sixto Rodriguez is favored to win Best Documentary Feature.  Here's the YouTube copy of the BBC video.

Searching for Sugar Man, a film chronicling the life of the American musician Rodriguez, is seen by many Oscars odds makers as the favourite to win the best documentary feature award, having already won in the same category at the Baftas.

Although Rodriguez had a huge following in apartheid-era South Africa, few knew of his music in his native US.

Now that has all changed with the film's success and Oscar nomination.
WXYZ has its own segment on the film featuring more of Sixto's commentary, a follow-up to an earlier report.

The film has already won the BAFTA for best documentary, so it's no surprise that the BBC thinks its a favorite.  That alone would not bolster my confidence, none of its competitors for the BAFTA award are contending for the Oscar.   What makes me more confident is that the film's director won the Directors Guild of America award for best direction of a documentary, where it was up against two of the four competitors for the Oscar, including "How to Survive a Plague," the documentary about the AIDS activist organization ACT-UP.  The title alone makes the latter film a worthy topic for this blog, although it will have to take its turn after "Skyfall."

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stocks climbing a wall of worry with lots to worry about

With stocks reaching new multi-year highs, it's time to do an update of Math and the market.  First, Bloomberg Businessweek with the headline and highlights of the trading day.

U.S. Stocks Rise to Five-Year Highs Amid Merger Optimism
U.S. stocks advanced, sending benchmark indexes to their highest levels in five years, on increasing optimism over dealmaking and a report showing rising investor confidence in Germany.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index increased 0.7 percent to 1,530.94 at 4 p.m. in New York. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 53.91 points, or 0.4 percent, to 14,035.67. Both indexes closed at their highest levels since October 2007. About 6.5 billion shares exchanged hands on U.S. exchanges, 6.5 percent above the three-month average. U.S. equity markets were closed yesterday for the Presidents Day holiday.
The S&P 500 completed its seventh consecutive weekly advance on Feb. 15, climbing 0.1 percent for the five days amid optimism over corporate merger activity and better-than- estimated economic data. The benchmark gauge is 2.2 percent below its 2007 all-time high of 1,565.15, while the Dow is 0.9 percent from its record high of 14,164.53.
I might be wrong about what I said last time.
I'm wary of this being as good news as people think it is.  The last time I recall hearing so much optimism was in June 2005.  The news on the radio trumpted record home sales and prices.  I took it as a sign of a market top and immediately drove to the nearest real estate office to my home in the Irish Hills and listed my house for sale.  The house sold in April 2006 and closed in May 2006, just as the bottom was about to fall out.  That was good news for both me and the deer.  That experience makes me suspect we're near a market top for now and that the Dow is more likely to drop 1,000 points than it is to rise to a new nominal record.
The Dow still hasn't reached a new nominal record, so the market could still sputter out just short of the level, although I'm beginning to suspect it might just make it and then start declining as a result of the sequester that will result if the latest installment of the Satan Sandwich/Fiscal Bluff isn't resolved.

On the other hand, I still stand by my conclusion.
A lot of the fundamental issues are still there, including overconfidence, greed, and lack of regulation.
Follow over the jump for the latest research about these topics.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Up like a rocket again

In the previous installment about the ride on the gas price rollercoaster, the corner gas station had actually succeeded in getting a price rise to stick.
By Saturday, all four stations matched their prices at $3.59, meaning that the corner station dropped by twenty cents while everyone else only raised theirs four.  Today, however, all the stations raised their prices to the level that the corner station had been testing for a couple of weeks.  The corner station is now at $3.76, while the other three are at $3.75.  Wow!
I declined to make a prediction other than to agree with what WXYZ reporter Julie Banovic repeated from the experts had told her.  It's just as well.  I may have got the prices up to last Friday right, but beyond that, I would have been unpleasantly surprised.

On Thursday, the prices at the three stations a few blocks away dropped to $3.72, while the corner station held firm at $3.76.  On Friday, it was every station for itself.  Prices ranged from $3.69, which is where I thought they'd end up the previous Monday to $3.89.  I filled up at the station selling gas for $3.69, as I had seen nothing but higher prices all around it.  Since then, prices have only gone up, as WXYZ reports.

$4.00/gallon gasoline?  I haven't seen that, but I haven't left the house yet. 

This latest price increase is not good news for Governor Snyder's proposed gas tax increase, as the Detroit Free Press reports in Pump price nears $4 in Michigan, making Snyder's tax plan a tougher sell.
Average gasoline prices in Michigan were pushing rapidly toward $4 per gallon Monday, a psychological benchmark that irked motorists and likely made passage of a gas tax proposal from Gov. Rick Snyder even more difficult.

The rising gas prices -- a product of numerous regional, national and global factors -- come amid Snyder's call in his State of the State address Feb. 7 for state lawmakers to increase Michigan's wholesale gas tax by 14 cents a gallon and its diesel tax by 19 cents to pay for road repair and maintenance.

The tax and fee increases would raise $1.2 billion annually.

Republican leaders, including Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, joined a chorus last week criticizing the proposal.

A spokesman for the governor, Kurt Weiss, said Monday, "We know we have some work to do on that legislation, and we are willing to roll up our sleeves and come up with a solution for fixing our roads."
I'm still in favor of this tax.  The roads need the money for repair and I need another incentive to buy a bike and ride it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

In Russia, space explores you!

In Soviet Russia, Space explore you!

In Coverage of the meteor on the local news, I wrote that I might have more later.  It's later, and here's more, all of which I originally included at Daily Kos in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (In Soviet Russia, Space explores you!)  First, an article about how Friday was a space object double feature.

In a rarity, a meteor hit and an asteroid near-miss on same day
By Irene Klotz
February 15, 2013
BOSTON (Reuters) - An asteroid half the size of a football field passed closer to Earth than any other known object of its size on Friday, the same day an unrelated and much smaller space rock blazed over central Russia, creating shock waves that shattered windows and injured 1,200 people.

Asteroid 2012 DA14, discovered just last year, passed about 17,200 miles from Earth at 2:25 p.m. EST (1925 GMT), closer than the networks of television and weather satellites that ring the planet.

"It's like a shooting gallery here. We have two rare events of near-Earth objects approaching the Earth on the same day," NASA scientist Paul Chodas said during a webcast showing live images of the asteroid from a telescope in Australia.

Scientists said the two events, both rare, are not related -the body that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, at 10:20 p.m. EST Thursday (0320 GMT Friday) came from a different direction and different speed than DA14.
Follow over the jump for more about the impact itself.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A belated happy Darwin Day!

I celebrated last Tuesday as Paczki Day, but it was also Charles Darwin's birthday, something I celebrated last year.  In the interest of completeness, here is my post for this year.

Scientific American: Darwin Day: A personal offering
By Ashutosh Jogalekar
February 12, 2013
Two hundred and four years ago this day, Charles Darwin was born. The vision of life that he created and expounded on transformed humanity’s perception of its place in the universe. After Copernicus’s great heliocentric discovery, it was Darwin’s exposition of evolution and natural selection that usurped human beings from their favored place at the center of the universe. But far from trivializing them, it taught them about the vastness and value of life, underscored the great web of interactions that they are a part of, and reinforced their place as both actor and spectator in the grand game of the cosmos. Not only as a guiding scientific principle but as an all-encompassing element of understanding our place in the world, evolution through natural selection has become the dominant idea of our time. As the eminent biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky put it quite simply, nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Evolution is a fact. Natural selection is a theory that is now as good as a fact. Both evolution and natural selection happen. And both of them owe their exalted place in our consciousness to a quiet, gentle and brilliant Englishman.

Today it is gratifying and redeeming to know how right Darwin was and how much his theory has been built upon, and frustrating to keep on realizing how those professing religious certainty threaten to undermine the value of his and others’ careful and patient discoveries. Especially in the United States evolution has become a bizarre battleground of extreme opinions and mudslinging, a development that seems to be in step with the tradition of coloring any and every issue with a political hue. In this country, it seems today that you can hardly utter an opinion without attaching a label to it. You cannot simply have an opinion or take a position, no matter how grounded in fact it is; your position has to be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Neo-Conservative, Socialist or Atheist. if none of these, it has to be Centrist then.
Yes, Darwin has been terribly politicized.

Darwin wasn't just a biologist, and neither am I.  We both started off as geologists.

Scientific American: Darwin: Geologist First and Last
By Dana Hunter
February 10, 2013
Shall we play a word-association game? I’ll say “Darwin.” And chances are, you’ll say “Origin of Species,” or “Evolution,” or “Biology.” Charles Darwin laid the foundation for modern biology. He changed our whole conception of how species come to be, why a single simple organism could be the root of a riotously-branching tree, how “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” Of course we associate him with biology. Rightly so.

But I have got a different word associated with him now: “Geology.”

Darwin was one hell of a biologist. But he began and finished with geology, and geology is at the heart of The Origin.
The article then goes on to describe the effect of Darwin's reading of Lyell's "Principles of Geology," a story I tell my geology students every semester.

Once again, happy Darwin Day, a little late!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

It's time to look for Mercury

Tonight, look into the sunset to see Mercury.  NASA Television on YouTube has more details in ScienceCasts: Pink Planet at Sunset.

The planet Mercury is about to make its best apparition of the year for backyard sky watchers. Look west at sunset for a piercing pink planet surrounded by twilight blue.
Happy viewing!

Are your oxytocin levels high enough?

Scientific American: Be Mine Forever: Oxytocin May Help Build Long-Lasting Love
The hormone oxytocin increases empathy and communication, key to sustaining a relationship between mates
By Luciana Gravotta
February 11, 2013
If cupid had studied neuroscience, he’d know to aim his arrows at the brain rather than the heart. Recent research suggests that for love to last, it’s best he dip those arrows in oxytocin. Although scientists have long known that this hormone is essential for monogamous rodents to stay true to their mates, and that it makes humans more trusting toward one another, they are now finding that it is also crucial to how we form and maintain romantic relationships.

A handful of new studies show that oxytocin makes us more sympathetic, supportive and open with our feelings—all necessary for couples to celebrate not just one Valentine’s Day, but many. These findings have led some researchers to investigate whether oxytocin can be used in couple therapy.

The first bit of evidence that points to oxytocin as nature’s love glue comes from researchers who measured the hormone in couples. Psychology professor Ruth Feldman at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, spent years studying oxytocin’s role in the mother–child bond and recently decided to dive into the uncharted waters of romantic bonds by comparing oxytocin levels in new lovers and singles. “The increase in oxytocin during the period of falling in love was the highest that we ever found,” she says of a study she and her colleagues published in Psychoneuroendocrinology. New lovers had double the amount Feldman usually sees in pregnant women.
My wife and I work hard to keep our oxytocin levels up.  Do you?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Coverage of the meteor on the local news

When I asked "Ready for the asteroid encounter today?" I was asking about the wrong space object.  The Russian meteor explosion ended up as the big astronomy story of the day.  It even made the local news on three of the local stations I follow on YouTube.

First, here's WXYZ's coverage.

Next, WOOD-TV.

Earlier today we asked you to post your questions about this event on our Facebook page--now chief meteorologist Bill Steffen is here to answer some of them.
Finally, WCPO in Cincinnati.

I'll probably have more later.  Right now, I'm going to play Rift with my wife.

Ready for the asteroid encounter today?

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCast: Record-Setting Asteroid Flyby

On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth closer than many man-made satellites. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet. Asteroid to Give Earth Record-Setting Close Shave on Feb. 15
by Staff
Date: 01 February 2013 Time: 05:30 PM ET
An asteroid half the size of a football field will give Earth the ultimate close shave this month, passing closer than many satellites when it whizzes by, but it won't hit the planet, NASA scientists say.

The asteroid 2012 DA14 will fly by Earth on Feb. 15 and zip within 17,200 miles (27, 680 kilometers) of the planet during the cosmic close encounter. The asteroid will approach much closer to Earth than the moon, and well inside the paths of navigation and communications satellites.

"This is a record-setting close approach," Don Yeomans, the head of NASA's asteroid-tracking program, said in a statement. "Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, we've never seen an object this big get so close to Earth."
Even as close as it will come, it won't be visible with the naked eye.  Even if it were, it wouldn't be visible from North America; the asteroid will be passing over Australia and Asia.  However, NASA will be live-streaming video this afternoon at their page for the encounter.  Enjoy your remote view!

Barnacles show that "nature finds a way"

Nature via Scientific American: Barnacles Mate via "Spermcasting"
Oversize penises are not always enough to let these immobile crustaceans mate if the animals live in solitude, so they release sperm into the sea, which allows other barnacles to capture it and thus fertilize eggs
By Daniel Cressey and Nature magazine
It can be hard to find a sexual partner when you are glued to a rock.

Barnacles famously get around this problem by having penises longer than their bodies, so that they can seek out relatively distant mates. But now it seems that some adopt another strategy, entrusting their precious bodily fluids to the currents.

Some of these crustaceans live alone, with no neighbors near enough to have sex with. In the case of the gooseneck-barnacle species Pollicipes polymerus, this presented a mystery: although some barnacles are thought to self-fertilize, scientists have never been able to witness reproduction of solitary P. polymerus, so these animals were thought to have to mate.

But Richard Palmer, a marine biologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his team have now shown that the barnacles are capable of capturing sperm released into the sea, which gives them another route to procreation.
In case this article makes for dry reading, try Friday Weird Science: Slutty Sloppy Barnacle Spermcasting at Scientopia.  It has photos and a video.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wayne State research on love for Valentines Day

Happy Valentines Day!

Yes, love is a subject of academic research.  Follow over the jump for two complete press releases from Wayne State University on how technology affects long-distance love and how the loves of pre-teens affect their future behavior, along with commentary on how my experiences relate to the findings of the studies.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The corner station backs into a victory in the gas war

When I last reported on the ride of the gas price rollercoaster, I predicted where it would go next.
I drove by the three stations a few blocks away and all of them displayed $3.59 for regular while the corner station was still at $3.55.  By this afternoon, the corner station decided to see them and raise them, with a price of $3.79.  I think that will last until Monday morning, when everyone will start moving to $3.69.  Watch, they'll do it by Sunday.
I was both wrong and right about that prediction, in that order.  By Saturday, all four stations matched their prices at $3.59, meaning that the corner station dropped by twenty cents while everyone else only raised theirs four.  Today, however, all the stations raised their prices to the level that the corner station had been testing for a couple of weeks.  The corner station is now at $3.76, while the other three are at $3.75.  Wow!

I'll let WXYZ explain what happened.

This is much better reporting on gas prices than I'm used to seeing from WXYZ.  Normally, WOOD-TV does a better job while getting the jump on WXYZ, but not this time.  WOOD-TV doesn't yet have a clip on this story yet.  Good job, WXYZ!

As for what will happen next, Julie Banovic has already offered an expert prediction and I agree with it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mark Brewer continues his campaign for MDP Chair

In article on Mark Brewer and MDP convention, I described how the conflict over who will be the next Michigan Democratic Party Chair gave me an extra incentive to attend the Michigan Democratic Party's convention this month.  At the time, there was no opponent.
This has split the coalition of labor unions at the core of the MDP, with the MEA and MFT supporting Brewer.  I'm a member of the MEA, but I'm open to someone better.  The problem is that the UAW hasn't found anyone yet, better or not.
Since I wrote that, Mark Brewer has picked up an actual opponent, Lon Johnson, and not merely the disapproval of the UAW and Teamsters.  In fact, the two faced off at the Washtenaw County Democratic Party Executive Committee last Saturday, as reported by Chris Savage at Eclectablog.
Yesterday, the Ann Arbor Dems held their monthly meeting and it featured a powerhouse line-up. In addition to Dr. John Callewaert, a University of Michigan professor who spoke for nearly 30 minutes on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Michigan, the meeting attendees heard from Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives Congressman John Dingell, President of the Michigan State Board of Education John Austin, and local State House Representatives Jeff Irwin and Adam Zemke.

The highlight of the day, however, was appearances by both Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Mark Brewer and his opponent in the upcoming election for MDP Chair, Lon Johnson. The event was extremely well-run by Ann Arbor Dems chair Mike Henry and in the overflow crowd of around 250 people was nearly every elected official from the Ann Arbor area. It was, without question, the biggest political event in Washtenaw County since the election last November.
This won't be the only joint appearance by these two before the convention.  Tonight, they, along with John Austin, who is exploring a run for the Democratic nomination for Governor, are addressing the Oakland County Democratic Party Executive Committee.  I plan on being there.  As I wrote in January about the convention:
In any event, I'm going.  I already renewed my membership and bought my wife one as well.  I think the convention will be worth every penny I spend on it.
I'll have an update later.

Happy Paczki Day 2013!

This years report comes from Traverse City: Fat Tuesday treats at Potter's Bakery.

A favorite way to celebrate Fat Tuesday is by indulging in the Polish treat, the paczki. Potter's Bakery in Traverse City estimates that they'll sell 14,000 paczkis by the end of today.

Hours of preparation go into each batch of the Polish delight, and customers can choose between glazed and powdered. Fat Tuesday celebrators who buy their paczkis from Potter's can choose from 10 varieties including raspberry, blueberry, apple and the all-time favorite, custard.

Each paczki is a sweet treat meant to be an indulgence the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent.
No wonder today is called Fat Tuesday!

No one expected Pope Palpatine to retire!

Pope Palpatine

The Star Wars fan in me is taking turns being disappointed and relieved that it didn't take Darth Vader to throw him out of office.

Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader kills the emperor and saves luke. How the unconscious side, our shadow, may surface and defeat our rational side.
On the other hand, the Monty Python fan in me is pleased that the former head of the Inquisition did something no one expected.

No one expected the Pope to retire!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cats as a threat to biodiversity

I love cats and consider their rodent-catching ability to be a feature, not a bug, but some people have exactly the opposite opinions.  Discovery News has a particularly extreme example in Eliminate Cats! A Crazy Plan to Save Birds in New Zealand.

Housecats are destroying New Zealand's natural habitat! They are an invasive species and a threat to indigenous wildlife! At least that's what Gareth Morgan says, the man behind a radical cat eradication campaign in New Zealand. But as Anthony asks, is removing felines the answer? And what might happen once they're gone?
Good luck with that.

Science News has a more general view of the situation in Cats kill more than one billion birds each year.

New estimate suggests hunting felines take bigger bite than expected out of wildlife
By Susan Milius
Web edition: January 29, 2013
Domestic cats kill many more wild birds in the United States than scientists thought, according to a new analysis. Cats may rank as the biggest immediate danger that living around people brings to wildlife, researchers say.

America’s cats, including housecats that adventure outdoors and feral cats, kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds in a year, says Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., who led the team that performed the analysis. Previous estimates of bird kills have varied, he says, but “500 million is a number that has been thrown around a lot.”

For wild mammals, the annual toll lies between 6.9 billion and 20.7 billion, Marra and his colleagues report along with the bird numbers January 29 in Nature Communications. The majority of these doomed mammals and birds fall into the jaws of cats that live outdoors full-time with or without food supplements from people.
I don't care.  I'm still keeping my indoor-outdoor cats in an urban setting.  Here, they're catching animals that are not endangered and could become pests.  On the other hand, cats in Pacific Islands like the Hawaiian Islands or New Zealand might not be as beneficial.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Year of the Snake!

Mandarin: Gong Xi Fa Cai/Xin Nian Kuai Le

Cantonese: Kung Hei Fat Choi

Hokkien (Fujian/Taiwanese): Kiong Hee Huat Tsai/Sin Ni khòai lok


Simplified Chinese: 恭喜发财 新年快乐

Traditional Chinese: 恭喜發財 新年快樂


Updated from last year's post.

Above originally posted in my LiveJournal three years ago

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Updates on Nemo and Super Bowl blackout

Two updates, first on Nemo and then on the Super Bowl blackout.

Here's the latest on the storm from USA Today as reprinted in the Detroit Free Press.

'Nemo' blizzard turns deadly; massive power outages in Northeast
By Gary Strauss, Doyle Rice and Kevin McCoy
February 9, 2013
A deadly blizzard of epic proportions pounded the Northeast, already bringing more than 3 feet of snow to some areas and cutting power to 650,000 homes and businesses.

More than 3 feet had fallen on central Connecticut by Saturday afternoon, and areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire notched 2 feet or more of snow — as the storm began to wane.

The storm is being blamed on at least six deaths, three in Canada and three in the USA. A 74-year-old man died after being struck by a car in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; the driver said she lost control in the snowy conditions, police said. A second New Yorker, 23, died when a tractor he was using to plow his driveway went off the edge of the road. And a pedestrian was struck by a vehicle and killed Friday night in Connecticut, police said.
The storm may be a disaster, but the naming was a success, as documented in Naming Nemo: How the Storm Got Its Name by Larry O'Hanlon at Discovery News.
Back in October 2012, everybody was poohooing The Weather Channel’s (TWC) plan to start giving names to significant winter storms. Now it looks like a large number of reports on the storm, dubbed Nemo by TWC, have adopted the name (not all, by any means, but lots, including Discovery News).

What happened? I’ll say it in three words: search engine optimization. Despite very reasonable arguments against the naming of winter storms by many meteorologists, we are seeing them adopted anyway.
Finally, another take on the Super Bowl blackout from Wired.

How Much Gasoline Would It Take to Power the Superdome?
By Rhett Allain
Surely you are aware that there was a power issue during Super Bowl XLVVII in the Superdome. So, some of the lights went out near the beginning of the second half of the game.

I’m not entirely sure there is a backup generator for the Superdome, but what if there is? What if the power went out and they wanted to continue the Super Bowl using a generator. How fast would that thing use gasoline?
The answer is one tanker truck per hour and a half.  That deserves last month's Nablopomo badge.

Videos about the Super Bowl blackout

I got my wish.
I've only seen Escape on my blog once, commenting on Matt Taibbi and Mike Lofgren are on the same page about the global rich.  I wouldn't mind him commenting more.
He showed up in comments to this entry and to sex in space.  I should really answer him directly, about the blackout.  Instead, I'm going to phone it in for now and post some video responses.  First, the Associated Press has a straightforward report in Super Bowl Outage Traced to Faulty Device.

The Superdome's power company took the blame Friday for the Super Bowl blackout, saying the cause was a faulty device that had been installed in its switching gear to prevent a failure of electric cables leading to the stadium.
Discovery News used it as an opportunity to muse about our infrastructure in Big Game Blackout: The Power Grid Explained.

If the blackout during the Big Game taught us one thing, it's to appreciate electricity. But what goes into delivering our power? And how does it get from power plants to our homes and offices? As Trace tells us, it's a whole lot more complicated than you think.
Finally, GeekBeatTV just rolled their eyes at it in Tech of the Super Bowl.

We saw a failure of technology when half the lights went out at the Super Bowl, but the successes, like Wi-Fi for 30,000 users, and more second-screen viewers than ever before are pretty impressive.
They were much more interested in the tech successes than in the one big failure.

I promise I'll get around to responding to Escape presently.

Yesterday was a snow day

Thursday evening, I expressed my dread about Friday's weather.
I'm not looking forward to this, as I'm supposed to be at a meeting of all full-time faculty tomorrow afternoon.  Personally, I wouldn't mind if it were cancelled.
I got my wish, at least in terms of not driving in the aftermath of the storm, as the college closed.  In a way, it was too bad.  While I was dreading the drive, I was looking forward to being fed and enjoying the company of my colleagues.  Instead, I got a snow day, like nearly all the rest of the students and teachers in the area.  The grade-school kids in the suburbs were sledding, as WXYZ reported.

As for me, I stayed home with my wife, where we played Rift.  It was a good excuse not to blog or pay attention to the world's problems.  It was also a good way to do something I enjoy with someone I love.

Follow over the jump for stories about people who didn't enjoy the disruption of Winter Storm Nemo as much as the kids above or my wife and I did.*

Friday, February 8, 2013

Proposed gas tax hike with bonus gas price rollercoaster

It's no secret that Michigan's roads need to be maintained better.  To that end, Governor Snyder has proposed increases in both gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.  Imagine that, a Republican in favor of increasing government services and raising taxes to pay for them.  Better yet, he was brave enough to appear on WXYZ to sell his ideas.

Governor Rick Snyder speaks on 7 Action News following his budget proposal.
Governor Snyder averages one thing I approve of every year.  Last year, it was the new Detroit-Windsor bridge.  This year, it's this proposal to fund road construction, even if it will raise my taxes.  Too bad for Snyder it's only February.  I shouldn't be too hard on him, as he just gave me another reason to buy a bicycle and start cycling to work.  I need the motivation.

Unfortunately for a lot of people, a higher gas tax will increase the price of fuel when it is already going up.  Speaking of which, it's time for an update on the local gas war.  Only three days ago, I predicted what would happen next.
Just the same, my forecast for rising prices still looks good, as all the stations raised their prices to $3.55 today.  It's only four cents to my predicted $3.59.  I bet they can reach that by Friday.
They reached it yesterday morning, when I drove by the three stations a few blocks away and all of them displayed $3.59 for regular while the corner station was still at $3.55.  By this afternoon, the corner station decided to see them and raise them, with a price of $3.79.  I think that will last until Monday morning, when everyone will start moving to $3.69.  Watch, they'll do it by Sunday.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Winter storm Nemo coming

I may have jinxed things by pointing out that halfway through winter, WXYZ's winter forecast is holding up.   There's a winter storm coming through metro Detroit overnight.  WXYZ reports.

Note that the biggest threat comes from snow and what it will do to the roads.  Oakland County is prepared, as this second video from WXYZ shows.

Plows ready for snow storm.

I'm not looking forward to this, as I'm supposed to be at a meeting of all full-time faculty tomorrow afternoon.  Personally, I wouldn't mind if it were cancelled.  Just the same, Detroit is getting off lightly.  As The Weather Channel reports, Boston and New York are going to get clobbered with full-blown blizzards.

The Northeast should begin feeling the effects of Winter Storm Nemo by early Friday. The Weather Channel Winter Weather Expert Tom Niziol takes a look at the timing of the storm.
What will be a nuisance here will be a major threat there.  I wouldn't have to worry about work being cancelled in Boston.  The whole coast from New Jersey up to Maine will be almost entirely shut down by tomorrow afternoon.

Valentine's Day gifts from GeekBeatTV

I've been very busy with the sex part of this month's theme of love & sex, but not enough about love, or mindless consumerism, for that matter.  GeekBeatTV rides to the rescue with this silly video full of stupid and generally worthless but funny gift ideas.

Valentine's Day is right around the corner - what are you gonna do??? Don't panic, we've got some ideas to please your sweetheart, while staying true to your inner geek.
The best I can say about these that a lot of them do no worse than wasting pixels and money, not any serious physical resources.  Otherwise, they're good for nothing but a laugh, sometimes at the buyer's expense.  A fake girlfriend posting to your Facebook page?  Pathetic.  Seriously, it's bad when the most useful product is the service sponsoring the video.

I'll have a serious post later today, as yesterday was a very busy news day for sustainability.  Right now, I'll leave you all with this image from an earlier Nablopomo theme.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Love Stinks

If all else fails for an entry about this month's theme of love & sex, I can go to Discovery News' YouTube channel to get another video about the topic.  It's easy, as  the channel currently has three from the past week or so, in addition to the one I already posted.  Here's the one that struck my fancy today.

Love Stinks: The Smell of Attraction

There's a reason you're attracted to certain scents and it has to do with your own natural smell. Pheromone parties are predicated on this very logic, designed to help you smell out a mate. Join Anthony as he takes a big whiff.
Here's to hoping that made you all smarter, not just hornier.

Halfway through winter, WXYZ's winter forecast holding up

Last October, I found support for my expectations for winter from WXYZ.
My students have already started asking me what I think of the upcoming winter's snowfall. I've been telling them it will be colder and snowier than last year, but snowfall will be no more than average and probably less. Looks like I got lucky, as the local experts are calling for 35-39 inches of snow, which is less than the average of 42 inches. Just the same, after last winter, even a slightly below average snowfall will seem like a lot of snow.
I haven't seen confirmation for this long-range forecast from WXYZ, but WNWO chimed in the day before yesterday with Snow removal companies running out of time.

A second consecutive winter of less than average snowfall has shuttered a handful of snow removal companies in the Toledo area.
Colder than last year?  Check.  Lower than average snowfall?  Check.  Now all the forecast needs is an early spring to ensure it comes true while still consistent with a warming climate.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Toledo complains about gas price rollercoaster going up

Before I update the local situation, here is what it looks like just over the state line in Ohio, where WNWO-TV reports Gas prices in Toledo up more than 50 cents in the last month.

Several national media companies have reported a connection with last week's fire at the Toledo Refining Plant and an $.11 increase in the last week.
I should be more sympathetic, but I'm not.  As you can see from the conclusion of I was right in less than a day, metro Detroit has already experienced the price hike that Toledo is complaining about and the prices here are higher.
The corner station didn't even wait a full day to take the offensive in the next battle of the gas war, raising the price of regular to $3.75.  That's nearly fifty cents in less than a week!  So far, the stations down the street aren't taking the bait, as they're keeping their prices at $3.49.  I filled up at one of them, as I expect everyone's prices to stabilize at $3.59 or so when this round is over.
It hasn't quite worked worked out that way, but not in a bad way.  All the rest of the stations held their prices at $3.49 until yesterday.  As a result, the corner station dropped its price first to $3.69, then matched its competition at $3.49 on Sunday.  Once again, it lost the battle in the local gas war.

Just the same, my forecast for rising prices still looks good, as all the stations raised their prices to $3.55 today.  It's only four cents to my predicted $3.59.  I bet they can reach that by Friday.

The science of sex and housework

Science News: Some chores linked to less sex
Husbands who do more household work make love less, new study suggests
By Nathan Seppa
Web edition: January 30, 2013
Maybe it’s the apron. Couples in the United States in which the men do more chores around the house have less sex than those in which the husbands don’t do the dishes and laundry as much, a new study finds. The findings appear in the February American Sociological Review.

The division of labor in the typical U.S. household became more egalitarian between 1965 and 1995 says study coauthor Sabino Kornrich, a sociologist at the Juan March Institute in Madrid. As women entered the workforce in droves and had smaller families, men took on more chores.

But the new study, a snapshot of more than 3,500 heterosexual married couples in the United States in the early 1990s, finds that wives were still doing four-fifths of the household chores traditionally associated with women: doing dishes, washing clothes, cooking, cleaning and shopping. The husbands did a bare majority of traditionally male jobs, which comprised yard work, auto maintenance, driving and paying bills, Kornrich says.
When I posted this as part of Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Groundhog Day 2013) on Daily Kos, it got quite a bit of pushback.  On commenter noted that this study appeared to be more correlation than causation, which I agree with.  He also pointed out that being a parent, which generates more housework, leads to less sex.  As you can see, he was skeptical about the finding.  Another commenter supported the first, quoting a Marlo Thomas and friends song.
If you want your days to be sunny as summer weather, do the housework together.
The article itself concluded by quoting researchers who disagreed with the finding.
Some scientists remain unconvinced that less work around the home by the man is a turn-on for a couple. “The jury is out on this,” says Oriel Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Oxford in England, citing research that draws different conclusions.

Constance Gager, a sociologist at Montclair State University in New Jersey, has found that couples in which both spouses contribute a lot to household work tend to have more sex than couples who do less around the house. She refers to it as “work hard, play hard.”

Sullivan acknowledges the possibility that the underlying sensibilities guiding sexual desire and frequency in a marriage have not changed in step with the division of household labor. After all, popular culture still often represents men in highly traditional roles, she says. “The movie image of masculinity, the action hero, has hardly shifted at all over the last 50 years.”

As for sex, frequency may not explain it all, anyway. Gager says that social workers tell her that patients insist that quality matters just as much as quantity.
As for me, this isn't going to convince me to do less housework.  There are more important things in a marriage than how often one has sex.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sex in space

In keeping with this month's Love & Sex theme, here is something that is more explicitly sexy than math in the stock market, even if money is sexy and the Dow hit a five-and-a-half year high last Friday.  Take it away Discovery News!

Sex In Space: How It's Done

Sex in space. Sounds like fun, right? Has it been done before? And is it even possible? Laci takes a look.
With a topic like this, you know I couldn't resist.

Math and the market

Last week, Kunstler melted down at what passed for good news in The Master Meme.*
The gentlemen and ladies of the meme-o-sphere, where collective notions are birthed like sleet from clouds, have decided lately that the USA has entered a full-on broad-based bull market - a condition of general happiness and prosperity as far advanced beyond mere "recovery" as a wedge of triple-cream Saint-Andre cheese is advanced over a Cheez Doodle. It has become the master fantasy of the moment, following the birth of some junior memes such as... we have a hundred years of shale gas and the "housing sector" (i.e. the suburban sprawl-building industry) is "bouncing back." What a sad-sack nation of credulous twits we have become.
I bet he really melts down today, between the Super Bowl and the Dow hitting 14,000 for the first time in six years.  ABC News has the report.

This is the first time in since October 2007 that the Dow has hit that number.
I'm wary of this being as good news as people think it is.  The last time I recall hearing so much optimism was in June 2005.  The news on the radio trumpted record home sales and prices.  I took it as a sign of a market top and immediately drove to the nearest real estate office to my home in the Irish Hills and listed my house for sale.  The house sold in April 2006 and closed in May 2006, just as the bottom was about to fall out.  That was good news for both me and the deer.  That experience makes me suspect we're near a market top for now and that the Dow is more likely to drop 1,000 points than it is to rise to a new nominal record.

Speaking of spectacular drops in the market, Scientific American has recently published two articles on the misuse of mathematical formulas by brokers and analysts that allowed people to become overconfident in the runup to the global finacial crisis leading to the Great Recession.  Follow over the jump for them.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Hipcrime Vocab on the Super Bowl

For those of you who want something more critical of the Super Bowl than my goofy posts about commercials and animals, I recommend the latest by EscapefromWisconsin over at the Hipcrime Vocab: Are You Ready For No Football?
It's once again Super Bowl Sunday, and time for this post I wrote a couple years ago, but forgot to post on the big day. So, in honor of this Packerless Super Bowl, I can finally post it. In it, I wonder just how much of a shelf life professional football has due to a combination of economic contraction and lawsuits from concussions.
Escape then compares football to both the Roman Legion and gladiators and the U.S. to the late Roman Empire.  I highly recommend the history lesson, which he interrupts with a screed about commercials.
Commercials are as big a deal as the game now, and one has to wonder at not only the mental state of the people these commercials appeal to, but the tremendous waste in a society that can't even keep it's infrastructure sound or it's basic public services funded. How much of our economy is dedicated to this essentially useless and unproductive activity? How much economic "growth" has it been responsible for?
I wonder what escape thinks about my interest in marketing and commercials?  Probably not much, if at all.  I've only seen Escape on my blog once, commenting on Matt Taibbi and Mike Lofgren are on the same page about the global rich.  I wouldn't mind him commenting more.  Aside from the personal, he's again raising good questions about advertising, which is the life blood of the media industry.  The real question becomes "what good is the media" and how can one maintain a worthwhile media sector without advertising?  I don't think subscriptions are it for mass media (HBO on the one hand and public broadcasting on the other notwithstanding) and a TV tax like Britain has would go over like a lead balloon--or worse.  So, no, I don't have any answers right now.

Escape also talks about how lawsuits by players and ex-players could shut down the game.  I suspect it won't, but it might make it more safe.  If it does end football, well, it might be what finally turns the U.S. into a power in the other football, men's soccer.  Wouldn't that be a switch?  In any event, I'm betting on the legal situation ending football sooner than general economic decline.  Extending the Roman Empire metaphor, we need our bread and circuses.  Besides, the one thing that will get Americans to act is messing with their entertainment, something I've mentioned again and again.  The end of football would interfere with Americans messed up priorities and we'll want to keep football as long as possible.

Escape concludes with this hilarious video animating one of Bill Maher's New Rules, Bill Maher - Irritable Bowl Syndrome.

A short essay animated from the audio recording of 'The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass'. It was originally performed on 'Real Time with Bill Maher'.
Everyone enjoy your socialist sports spectacle!

Sex sells the Super Bowl in space

Once again, the Super Bowl will have an audience that is out of this world--literally, as reports.

Astronauts Will Watch Super Bowl from Space
by Tariq Malik, Managing Editor
Date: 02 February 2013 Time: 10:58 AM ET
Six astronauts living in space may not have gravity, fresh food or a shower, but there is one Earth necessity they won't miss Sunday: The Super Bowl.

NASA's Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston will beam the Super Bowl XLVII showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens live to the International Space Station so its astronaut crew can watch the big game along with every other football fan on Earth.

"Yes they are going to watch it this weekend," NASA spokesman Josh Byerly told in an email. Byerly said Mission Control made a special point on Friday (Feb. 1) of asking the station astronauts if they wanted to catch the game.

"And they said they definitely wanted to see it," Byerly said.
There's more at the link, including a graphic comparing the dimensions of the ISS with a football field (they're about the same) and a space-themed commercial that will be televised during the game.  Appropriate for this month's  Love & Sex theme, it's about sex, or rather, avoiding the topic of sex altogether.

"Space Babies" 2014 Kia Sorento Big Game Ad

When it comes to our kids, there's an age-old question that has perplexed parents for generations. "Where do babies come from?" Now, for the first time ever, we'll reveal this untold story through an epic journey, nine months in the making.

Watch as a nervous father navigates through this delicate situation, with a little help from his 2014 Kia Sorento SX Limited and UVO voice-activated infotainment system that plays "Wheels on the Bus". With all of its many features, it has an answer for everything. So fasten your diapers -- these babies are ready for launch.

Join our Game Day ad conversation on Twitter with @Kia using #SpaceBabies
OK, that's right up there with the hip-hop hamsters and better than superheroes, too.  Then again, I'm biased, as I drive a Kia.

What about the ads that use sex in a more straight-forward fashion to sell products?  Kia has one of those, too.

"Hotbots" 2014 Kia Forte Big Game Car Ad

The all-new 2014 Kia Forte is designed for those who love technology. And nobody loves technology more than sexy high-tech robots. Watch as our two beautiful hotbots unveil the new Forte at a press event. Things take an unexpected turn after one reporter gets a little too close to their prized possession.

Let's just say he learns an important lesson:
Always respect the tech.

Join our Game Day ad conversation on Twitter with @Kia using #HotBots
Screw the game, I'm watching the commercials.

A farewell to my youth in Yosemite

Exactly one year ago today, I described how I got my love for the outdoors in Relative: Yosemite video from Vimeo.
I spent at least part of every summer growing up in Yosemite and both my sisters worked there... The brother of one of my ex-girlfriends worked there, too, and knew my sisters. That story, when I tell it, will be filed under "it's a small world."
Today's not the day for that story, even though it's not a coincidence that I've only mentioned Yosemite on February 3rd.

It's also not the day to expound on this story, even though it shows how much I still love Yosemite.
I use the park and its features every chance I get in my Geology lectures, including this past Wednesday, when I showed my students the hikers climbing up the back side of Half Dome. One of the scenes in the video shows that. I tell my students that I love Geology, because it's my chance to get paid showing my family vacation photos. I'm only half joking.
I plan on giving that same lecture tomorrow.  This time, I might show my students the video in last year's post.  But enough of that.

Instead, I want to say goodbye to the Yosemite I knew growing up as described in this story from the Los Angeles Times.

Yosemite plan calls for more campsites and parking spaces
The National Park Service would restore 203 acres along the Merced River and eliminate an ice rink, commercial horseback riding, hotel swimming pools and raft and bicycle rentals.
By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times
January 9, 2013
Yosemite Valley would have more camp sites and parking spaces — and the number of daily visitors would not be reduced — under a National Park Service plan intended to ease congestion in one of the country's most scenic spots.

The proposal is the agency's third attempt to produce a legally acceptable management plan for the Merced River and the ever popular valley that it flows through. Environmental groups have twice sued the agency, winning court orders that compelled the park service to draw up new blueprints.

The latest effort, a lengthy draft document released Tuesday, navigates a middle course. The agency's preferred alternative would restore 203 acres along the river, change traffic circulation and parking, and eliminate an ice skating rink, commercial horseback riding, hotel swimming pools and raft and bicycle rentals.

But the plan steers clear of the politically sensitive issue of reducing the number of visitors to the valley, which on a busy summer day can be packed with nearly 20,000 people.
On the one hand, this has been a long time coming.  The first signs of the trend leading to this plan appeared during the early 1970s, when the park began to talk about getting cars out of Yosemite Valley.  After more than 40 years, I can't say that I'm surprised.  As an environmentalist and former National Park Ranger, I can also see why the NPS would consider the changes to be necessary.

On the other hand, I remember the "ice skating rink, commercial horseback riding, hotel swimming pools and raft and bicycle rentals."  In fact, I have fond memories of swimming in the pools at Camp Curry and Yosemite Lodge, rafting down the Merced River, and riding rented bikes and horses.  Now, those memories will be as much ones of a bygone era to people of this century as the ones in the video below would have been to me.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Animals predict the Super Bowl

The long-term weather forecast isn't the only thing groundhogs predict.  It turns out that people use animal auguries to predict sports events, too.  ABC News has a report on Staten Island Chuck and other animals making their picks for tomorrow's Super Bowl.

Just to summarize, the animals are picking the Ravens 4-3 over the 49ers.  Hey, they're just being homers.  After all, they're picking the team with a non-human animal as the mascot over the one with a human.

As for me, this expatriate Californian is rooting for the team from his old home state.  That doesn't mean I'm making any predictions.  After all, the last one was completely wrong.