The latest new species to arrive at our bird feeders appears to be the Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus). It’s a passerine finch that resembles the goldfinches and redpolls we see more frequently. Like goldfinches and redpolls, they flock in substantial numbers: I counted more than 20 of them today. More photos here, here and here.
The earthquake that hit eastern Ontario and western Quebec this morning had its epicentre awfully close to us here in Shawville, Quebec. Which is to say — despite Toronto’s usual best efforts to make the earthquake theirs — that we felt it here sooner, and possibly harder, than the rest of you. Both the Ottawa Citizen and the Canadian Press include quotes from Shawville’s mayor, Albert Armstrong, who described it as unlike anything he’d ever lived through before, and he’s lived here all his life.
I haven’t experienced many earthquakes (the last one was in June 2010) so it’s hard for me to compare; this one felt, well, wobblier than others, like I was in the backseat of a car driving along one of Quebec’s finer highways on a hot day with the windows up, and if it doesn’t stop soon I’m going to barf. That kind of motion. One person said I’d tweeted about it before anyone else (at least that she saw), but then I was at the keyboard when it hit; all I had to do was command-tab to the Twitter app and type one word. The quake lasted more than long enough for that.
Natural Resources Canada lists it as a magnitude 5.2 quake and puts the epicentre 18 kilometres northeast of Shawville; the USGS calls it a magnitude 4.4 quake and locates its epicentre 19 km north-northeast of here. I’ve pinpointed the two organizations’ epicentres, showing the differences, on this map.
Either way, the epicentre was situated in the rural municipality of Thorne, which I should say something about, because it usually doesn’t get much attention. It’s sparsely populated, with fewer than 300 permanent residents (an 18 percent drop over the past 20 years); the seasonal population of cottagers is more than three times as big. It’s Shield country (hence the earthquake) and so not good farming, but it had an influx of German settlers in the late 19th century whose main legacy is an Oktoberfest held each October in Ladysmith, Thorne’s centre. (Seriously, try the wings at the Hotel Ladysmith.) The arrival of a small cohort of American draft dodgers has made the joint much more interesting in recent decades.
National Geographic Daily News looks at recent research that fingers the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis), a common laboratory research animal and aquarium pet, as the source of a deadly chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, that has devastated amphibian populations worldwide. At one point amphibian declines were attributed to a number of factors; apparently the focus has sharpened somewhat since I last heard about this. Via Kingsnake.com.
It’s a big skiffy weekend, what with the opening of the new Star Trek movie and the season finale of Doctor Who. Spoilers abound.
It’s often argued that spoilers should have an expiration date. No one, for example, should feel the need to put a spoiler warning on the fact that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, because The Empire Strikes Back came out on May 21, 1980 — 33 years ago. So there is a point at which spoiler alerts are no longer required, and people who complain about spoilers can be rightly ridiculed as solipsistic weenies.
But what is that point after which spoilers are fair game? Nathan Fillion thinks that spoilers shouldn’t apply to the previous season — which is to say, if season five is being broadcast now, season four is fair game. (It’s true that a lot of the complaints come from people who are several seasons behind, catching up on DVD or Netflix or iTunes.)
Me, I think that if you’re sufficiently invested in a TV show, movie or book that spoilers would affect your enjoyment of it, you have an obligation to consume that cultural product as soon as possible.
Which is to say: if you want to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness spoiler free, get your ass to the movie theatre this weekend. If you don’t want to be spoiled about “The Name of the Doctor,” make a point of watching it on broadcast TV Saturday night or, if like me you don’t have cable, download in from iTunes on Sunday.
Make a damn effort, in other words.
I think opening weekend is about the only spoiler-free window you’re entitled to. The following week, we’re gonna talk about stuff — about Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek character, about who Clara Oswald is, about the Doctor’s name. If that’s too soon for you, then it doesn’t matter to you enough. Get a move on, or shut up.
Previously: Spoilers Don’t Matter.
The Cassini team has released a global topographic map of Saturn’s moon Titan. What makes this map interesting is the fact that, due to its thick atmosphere, Titan can only be mapped by radar during Cassini’s close flybys. As a result, only half of its surface has been imaged, and only 11 percent has topography data. For this map, the remainder was, well, extrapolated:
Lorenz’s team used a mathematical process called splining — effectively using smooth, curved surfaces to “join” the areas between grids of existing data. “You can take a spot where there is no data, look how close it is to the nearest data, and use various approaches of averaging and estimating to calculate your best guess,” he said. “If you pick a point, and all the nearby points are high altitude, you’d need a special reason for thinking that point would be lower. We’re mathematically papering over the gaps in our coverage.”
Image credit: NASA/
Google announced a complete redesign of Google Maps at their I/O developer conference yesterday. The new maps are vector-based, take up the entire browser window and change based on the context — highlighting certain streets, for example, based on a search — and your usage patterns. It’s also apparently quite resource intensive: these are maps designed for fast processors and fast Internet connections. It’s just an invite-only preview at the moment. For coverage see Engadget and The Verge.
Yikes! The Nebula Awards will be awarded this Saturday — at 10 PM EDT. So I’d best hurry up and get the last of these posts about the short fiction nominees finished. I’d meant to have them done more than a month ago, but, you know. Life.
In this final installment I look at the novelette nominees. Novelettes are the middle length, running from 7,500 words to 17,500 words. (If you missed them, here are the posts about the novella and short story nominees.) This year there are some novelettes on the ballot that I just loved, which is atypical for me; usually my response to novelettes isn’t quite so enthusiastic. (But that’s not to say that my response is normally tepid. I’m just a miser with my superlatives.)
So what is the situation with cardinals in the Ottawa Valley?
A decade or more ago, when I was living in Ottawa, I was given to understand that Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) were a relatively recent arrival to the area — that their range was, thanks to climate change, gradually moving northward. Fast forward to today — or rather, yesterday, when a cardinal arrived in our yard, the first one either of us had seen, anywhere. (See photos above.) I announced the fact breathlessly on Twitter, but it doesn’t seem to be as big a deal as I thought. Apparently cardinals are a common sight in Ottawa — how long has that been going on? Granted, we’re further up the Valley, so if the range has been moving northward slowly, then they may just be turning up here now. Or am I mistaken? Are cardinals a big deal around here or not?
Our evening walks — something we’re trying to do more of — have turned into exercises in frog and toad monitoring. We have a good population of amphibians even in town. Last week we couldn’t go anywhere without encountering at least one big American toad; last night I literally tripped over a gray treefrog on the PPJ bike trail.
There’s a wetland in the middle of the town where most of the calls seem to be coming from; the spring peepers started it and were joined by the toads last week. Last night, though, was the first that the gray treefrogs joined the chorus in earnest. We could even get a sense of where in the wetland the calls were coming from: the treefrogs seemed to be around the north and west, the toads were to the south and east, and the peepers were all over the place.
Encountering frogs and toads makes Jennifer deliriously happy. This is an incentive to keep walking.
My Beloved Brontosaurus looks at the gap between dinosaurs in the popular imagination and the latest paleontological research, and the gap between the dinosaurs the author, dino-blogger Brian Switek, grew up with and how we see them today. That gap is epitomized by the title dinosaur: Brontosaurus excelsus was real to science for all of 24 years, between Marsh’s description of it in 1879 and Riggs’s reclassification of it as a species of Apatosaurus in 1903, but someone forgot to tell the non-scientists, and the name lived on in the popular imagination.
Switek goes on like this throughout, debunking surprisingly out-of-date beliefs, adding specificity to what is generally known and bringing us up to date on a number of topics, from dinosaur pathologies to (in a funny chapter) mating, from feathered tyrannosaurs and raptors to the changing shape of Triceratops and Pachycephalosaurus skulls, plus the latest on extinction theories. Light, breezy and sharp-tongued, with lots of personal anecdotes — Switek was another dino-obsessed kid; he just refused to grow out of it (very sensible).
If you’ve been following the paleontology blogs (like Switek’s Laelaps), you may find much that is familiar; if you inhaled a ton of paleontology while you were young and are curious to see what’s happened since, this book might well be your thing.
- 2012 Nebulas: Novellas
- OpenStreetMap’s New Map Editor
- NGC 6559
- Saturday at Little Ray’s
- Reptiles in Renfrew County
- Black and Blue
- Your Choice of Platform Has Consequences
- Sunday Sewer Fun
- A Snake with No Name
- A Year of the Sun
- Thanks for All the Fish: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas
- Check Against Tyranny
- Fictional Worlds Map-Making Competition
- The Horsehead in Infrared
- New Habitable-Zone Planets
- Sigma’s New Fast Zoom Lens
- 2012 Nebulas: Short Stories
- The Human Division
- Without a Summer
- Route 148 Update