Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ February 2011

Hunting Snapping Turtles in Ontario

Pelee Island Field Trip (2002) The Ontario Nature Blog wonders why it’s okay to hunt snapping turtles in Ontario even though they’re listed as a species of special concern. Answers to their questions from Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) were neither clarifying nor encouraging.

It’s probably best to back up and explain what’s going on here, legally speaking. There are two pieces of provincial legislation at work here: the Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1997 (FWCA).

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Sidereal Motion

A trailer for Sidereal Motion, “[a] short film about the night sky as seen from five observatories around the world” by the Bailey-Salgado Project. Sidereal Motion uses time-lapse photography to portray the apparent rotation of the night sky (more precisely, the Earth’s rotation relative to the stars). For a closer look at how this is done, see José Francisco Salgado’s video from the ALMA observatory in Chile, which explains how they do it: these are 25-second exposures taken with digital SLRs and wide-angle lenses, assembled frame by frame into a video. (If you stacked them in Photoshop, instead of making a video out of them, you’d get an awesome star trails photo.) The fact that these are high-ISO long exposures means that you’re seeing a lot more than the naked eye ever could. Via Phil Plait.

When Biology Teachers Don’t Teach Evolution

As the spousal equivalent of a high-school biology teacher, I find this depressing: a survey of U.S. public school biology teachers found that only 28 percent consistently taught evolution without qualification, while 13 percent actively advocate creationism or intelligent design — in public schools, where that’s supposed to be illegal. Rod Dreher interviews one of the survey’s co-authors. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Prisoners of Gravity Episodes Online

Prisoners of Gravity, TVO’s show about science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics starring “Commander” Rick Green — yes, that Rick Green — ran for five seasons between 1989 and 1994. I missed most of them on account of the fact that I wasn’t living in Ontario at the time; I’m not sure if they ever ran in Manitoba. I saw a few in reruns afterward, and loved them, but now I’ve got another chance, since TVO has made a bunch of Prisoners of Gravity episodes available online as part of its Public Archive. Out of 139 total episodes, 25 are currently available; I hope there will be more — at least, after I’ve finished going through this lot. Via @scilib and Boing Boing.

Discovery’s Last Launch

Launch of Discovery/STS-133 No.3, remote camera

Thursday afternoon’s launch of Discovery was the 39th and last mission for that orbiter and quite possibly the penultimate mission for the space shuttle program — it depends on whether STS-135 will follow STS-134. (Image credit: DLR/Thilo Kranz, Creative Commons licence.)

Review: Gas Giants

Gas Giants (title screenshot) This morning I downloaded Software Bisque’s Gas Giants app, which costs $2.99 and runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

Gas Giants does one thing: it shows you how Jupiter, Saturn and their moons would look through a telescope right now (you can also scroll up to 24 hours in the future or in the past). This is a useful app for amateur astronomers planning their observations — “hey, which of Jupiter’s or Saturn’s moons are going to be visible tonight?” — but it’s a little pricey for a one-trick app (Software Bisque sells high-end software and telescope mounts that run into five figures).

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For Orchestras, Making CDs Doesn’t Make Money

The days of orchestras signing recording contracts with major record labels are over, Jaime Weinman of Maclean’s says, thanks to “a combination of higher costs and lower sales”:

It’s hard to believe, but classical recording used to be a way for artists to supplement their income. “In the old days, the Boston Symphony used to make quite a lot of money,” [BSO managing director Michael] Volpe says. “Contracts covered all the costs and paid a royalty on top of it.” Today, [Toronto Symphony Orchestra president Andrew] Shaw explains that though orchestras have managed to cut the costs of recording — mostly by recording live instead of going into the studio — there’s no way to make a profit, and no one expects to: a TSO live recording costs $35,000, much less than a big-label recording, and yet, “if we earn back 10 per cent of that $35,000, we’ve got a smash hit.”

Releasing a CD is now largely a promotional activity rather than a money-making one.

Nearside Mosaic

LROC Nearside Mosaic

Would you be too upset if I posted another space picture? No? Okay then. Here’s a photo of the nearside of the Moon. What makes it a big deal is that this is a high-resolution mosaic assembled from 1300 images taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which pointed its Wide Angle Camera straight down for two weeks in December. The full image is a 24,000×24,000-pixel 550-megabyte TIFF file; it’s easier to use the online image browser. Zoom in and gape, my friends, zoom in and gape. More from Phil Plait. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.)

Words in 1907

A couple of interesting posts from Mary Robinette Kowal, whose novel Shades of Milk and Honey has just been nominated for a Nebula, about the use of language in 1907, and the resources she uses to figure out whether or not a word or phrase was in use in 1907 and how somebody would swear in 1907. Obviously the novel she’s working on right now takes place in 1907, but this sort of thing is interesting for anyone who’s trying to find the mot juste for a work of fiction set in any historical period.

Planetary Photography with a Digital SLR

Jerry Lodriguss tried to take photos of Jupiter using a digital SLR, and wasn’t happy with the results. (Actually, he got much better results than I did when I tried the same thing in 2009 — but then he actually knows what he’s doing.)

Orion StarShoot Solar System camera The way to take photos of planets is to use video, and then sharpen the image by stacking the good frames and throwing out the bad ones. For technical reasons (which Jerry explains), using a modern digital SLR’s video mode isn’t the best option. It seems that the best camera to use is still a dedicated planetary camera — essentially a webcam modified to fit into a telescope’s eyepiece. Orion sells one for a hundred dollars. Celestron’s NexImage was, I think, the standard for a while, but the VGA webcam has got to be long in the tooth by now (Amazon link). The Imaging Source sells higher-end cameras (Amazon link). You still, of course, have to deal with telescope optics and how good the atmospheric seeing is. The camera is the easy part.

Too Many Tyrannosauruses

Tyrannosaurus The predator-vs.-scavenger debate regarding Tyrannosaurus rex has been going on forever. Via io9 comes word of a new study that adds fuel to the “scavenger” side of the argument. Co-authored by well-known paleontologist Jack Horner, long in the T. rex-as-scavenger camp, the study points out that are too many T. rex fossils in the Hell Creek bone bed relative to herbivore fossils for it to have been an apex predator. (There can only be so many predators for a given population of herbivores, or else there’s not enough food.) Which suggests that T. rex had other food sources to keep it going — like scavenging. Which is not to say that T. rex wasn’t a bad mofo, or that it couldn’t hunt, only that — assuming that the dinosaur census is a representative sample — hunting wouldn’t have been enough to feed that ravenous maw of nom.

NGC 6384

NGC 6304 (Hubble)

Is it time for another awesome space picture? I believe it is. Here’s an undated Hubble image, released this week, of spiral galaxy NGC 6384, more than 80 million light years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. Since Ophiuchus is not far from the centre of our galaxy, directionally speaking, a lot more stars from our galaxy can be seen in the foreground than in images of other galaxies. (Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA.)

Nobu Tamura’s Dinosaur Drawings

Utahraptor ostrommaysorum, drawing by Nobu Tamura

On Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs, a blog about dinosaurs and pop culture, David Orr has an interview with dinosaur illustrator Nobu Tamura, who has uploaded hundreds of drawings of prehistoric species to the Wikimedia Commons and made them freely available under a Creative Commons licence — I’ve used them several times myself to illustrate my own dinosaur blog entries. (Above: Tamura’s drawing of Utahraptor ostrommaysorum).

Gene Sharp

BBC News and the New York Times have stories about Gene Sharp, an 83-year-old retired political scientist who has been called a CIA agent by the Iranian regime and a threat to security by Hugo Chavez. Sharp’s book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, is a how-to manual for toppling despots. First published in 1993 for the use of democracy activists in Burma, the book, written in general terms because Sharp lacked on-the-ground knowledge, has gone on to be used in Indonesia, Serbia, Ukraine, and many other hotspots — including, yes, Egypt. I’ve read the book, which is available for download from the website of Sharp’s organization: it’s quite general, but it makes the essential point that even the most repressive regime cannot function if the population withdraws its support, and offers some examples of how to go about doing just that without resorting to violence — because violence, Sharp says, means “fighting with your enemy’s best weapon.”

The Sex Lives of Dinosaurs

Dinosaur blogger Brian Switek has a piece on Smithsonian.com about dinosaur sex, an expansive subject hampered by the lack of preserved soft tissue. It turns out that female dinosaurs can be identified by the presence of medullary bone, from which age at reproduction can be determined; and there are plenty of fossilized battle scars, evidence of mating combat. But we still don’t know the answer to this vital question: how the heck did Stegosaurus, with all those bony plates and that thagomizer, mate?

Figuring out how Stegosaurus even could have mated is a prickly subject. Females were just as well-armored as males, and it is unlikely that males mounted the females from the back. A different technique was necessary. Perhaps they angled so that they faced belly to belly, some have guessed, or maybe, as suggested by Timothy Isles in a recent paper, males faced away from standing females and backed up (a rather tricky maneuver!). The simplest technique yet proposed is that the female lay down on her side and the male approached standing up, thereby avoiding all those plates and spikes. However the Stegosaurus pair accomplished the feat, though, it was most likely brief — only as long as was needed for the exchange of genetic material. All that energy and effort, from growing ornaments to impressing a prospective mate, just for a few fleeting moments to continue the life of the species.

(Illustration by Nobu Tomura. Creative Commons licence.)

Mammatus Clouds

Mammutus clouds over Squaw Valley (Matt Saal)

I have recently become interested in unusual cloud formations, like noctilucent and lenticular clouds, and the atmospheric manifestations of Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. Now I have to add another one to the list: mammatus clouds, whose undersides are not round but are rather, um, boob-like. (Es verdád! Hence the name!) This image of mammutus clouds over Squaw Valley, taken by Matt Saal, was yesterday’s APOD. (Creative Commons licence.)

Nostalgia for the Light

Nostalgia for the Light (Spanish title: Nostalgia de la Luz) is a documentary by Chilean director Patricio Guzmán that juxtaposes two searches for the past in Chile’s Atacama desert: the giant telescopes built there to take advantage of the dry air and high altitude, and a group of women who comb the desert searching for the remains of relatives murdered by the Pinochet regime. Trailer (see above). Via Universe Today, which has a review.

Kindle First Impressions

Ophiuchus and Serpens on Kindle The Kindle is half the size of my iPad. It’s also one-third the weight (241 g vs. 730 g). It’s quite easy to hold, and the e-ink is as readable as advertised. I hadn’t actually seen a Kindle before mine turned up last week, and this screen is better, I think, than the Sony e-reader screens, which I had seen before. I can easily see reading this thing for long periods of time.

Ergonomically it’s a bit of a mixed bag. E-ink notwithstanding, the Kindle’s text rendering falls short of the iPad’s iBooks app in a couple of ways: its always-on text justification is messy in places, and it doesn’t support hyphenation. And navigation is trickier than I’d like: I’m still getting used to going without a touchscreen. Anything other than page-turning is fiddly.

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NGC 2841

NASA's Hubble Sees A Majestic Disk of Stars

Time for another awesome space picture, I think. Here’s a Hubble image, released today, of NGC 2841, a spiral galaxy some 46 million light years away in Ursa Major. (Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage [STScI/AURA]-ESA/Hubble Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M. Crockett and S. Kaviraj [Oxford University, UK], R. O’Connell [University of Virginia], B. Whitmore [STScI] and the WFC3 Scientific Oversight Committee.)

39

My birthdays have often been problematic due to, well, family issues from the distant past that I’m still trying to get over, coupled with the fact that I’m as often as not in flare on the day of. Which is to say that I’m often a grump on my birthday, and difficult to put up with.

This year it’s been better, despite the fact that I’m hurting a fair bit this week. It helps that I’ve been insanely productive this month, migrating The Map Room to a new blogging system and URL and creating this new website from scratch. That’s good for my morale. Also, Jen gave me a Kindle for my birthday today, which isn’t a bad thing either. And there’s a party to look forward to as well. So I’m good this year.

Copyediting Science Fiction and Fantasy

Deanna Hoak is a freelance copyeditor who specializes in science-fiction and fantasy novels; her blog is full of entries about copyediting that offer interesting insights into that line of work — which I have to admit I’m more than a bit curious about. (No surprise: I’m both a science-fiction fan and someone whose government work usually involves copyediting in some form or other, though editing draft regulations isn’t quite the same thing.) Posts of hers that stood out for me include Proofreading vs. Copyediting, The Copyediting Process, The Importance of Style Sheets, My Start in Publishing, and Understanding Your Copyedited Manuscript.

Further reading: Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s Making Book, which I read back in 2005.

‘The Party of Affect’

Right-wing gadfly David Frum:

A left-wing friend of mine jokes that conservatives are “the party of affect”: meaning that conservatives tend to care much more how a politician speaks than what a candidate says. [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie almost perfectly exemplifies this rule. If he were a soft-spoken, conciliatory Northeastern budget-balancer, he’d be dismissed as a Bill Weld/Mike Castle RINO. But instead, he’s an-in-your-face confrontationalist. So he can favor handgun control and still be the Coulter choice for president. Just so long as he’s rude about it.

The applicability of this to present-day Canadian conservatism should be obvious. Via The Daily Dish.

M78 Image Wins ESO Contest

M78 for ESO Processing contest. WFI camera on 2.2m telescope

Just because I’ve decided to wind down Prime Focus doesn’t mean I won’t continue to post pretty space pictures; I’ll just do it here. Here’s Igor Chekalin’s image of reflection nebula M78, based on data captured by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the European Southern Observatory’s La Silla facility. It’s the winning entry in the ESO’s Hidden Treasures competition for 2010; the competition invites amateurs to process raw data from their archives into pretty space pictures. See the Flickr group for other entries. Via Universe Today. (Image credit: ESO and Igor Chekalin.)

Analog Goes Digital

Analog is accepting electronic submissions as of next Tuesday, SFScope reports. I think that leaves F&SF as the only major SF market that still insists on paper submissions from its contributors.

At this rate I won’t need any of the U.S. stamps I bought several years back to use for return envelopes.

Darwin’s Finches

Goldfinch and Redpolls

Things have gotten downright Darwinian at the bird feeders lately. Several squadrons of Common Redpoll, which we haven’t seen at the feeder before, have descended upon the feeders and seem to have almost completely displaced our regular visitors, the American Goldfinches. Where there were once as many as 20 goldfinches feeding at one time, we now see around twice as many redpolls. If there are any goldfinches fighting for a feeding spot in that melee, it’s two or three at most. The two finch species do not seem to be taking turns: I haven’t seen the goldfinches wait for the redpolls to finish; it’s either redpolls or nothing. The redpolls appear to be a bit more fearless; they’re certainly more numerous. I imagine the goldfinches will admit defeat and head elsewhere, if they haven’t already done so. The chickadees, starlings, nuthatches and woodpeckers, who arrive in ones and twos and don’t swarm like sky piranhas, seem unaffected.

Finch behaviour at the feeders was interesting even before the redpolls turned up. When startled, which was often, they would fly off at once. Usually all but one bird, who would keep eating at the feeder. I thought to myself when I saw that a few times: here are birds that hedge their bets. Most are choosing to flee, on the basis that your chances of survival improve if you give up opportunities to eat, but spend energy fleeing from danger. But then there’s one bird that chooses to accept a higher risk of being eaten in order to get at more food. This is diversification in the financial sense, applied to natural selection — spreading out risk by, in this case, adopting multiple survival strategies.

Lizards and Lyme Disease

Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) Are Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) a natural defence against Lyme disease? Lyme disease is spread by ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium. The immune system of fence lizards (and other lizards, it seems) kills that bacterium: a tick that bites a fence lizard gets cleansed of the bacterium and is then unable to pass on Lyme disease to other animals, including humans. And lizards host 90 percent of the larval and nymphal population of the ticks that carry Lyme disease in the western U.S., which means that these ticks may be seeking out lizards preferentially. That’s good for suppressing Lyme disease, right?

But the presence of lizards isn’t necessarily beneficial, according to research conducted by a team led by Berkeley biologist Andrea Swei. The team removed fence lizards from several test locations to see what their absence would do to the tick population. The results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, were surprising: “The net result of lizard removal was a decrease in the density of infected nymphal ticks, and therefore a decreased risk to humans of Lyme disease. Our results indicate that an incompetent reservoir for a pathogen may, in fact, increase disease risk through the maintenance of higher vector density and therefore, higher density of infected vectors.” (Emphasis added.) In other words: more lizards equals more food for ticks, which means more ticks, and more opportunities to spread the disease. Sorry.

Via io9. Photo of a tick-encumbered fence lizard by Jerry Kirkhart; used under a Creative Commons Licence.

Switching TNF Inhibitors Helps Treat AS

In a study published in Rheumatology, French rheumatologists reported that switching between tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors may be an effective way to treat spondyloarthropathies like ankylosing spondylitis, the Irish Medical Times reports. TNF inhibitors include drugs like adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), golimumab (Simponi) and infliximab (Remicade). They’re reportedly very effective against my disease, but they’re profoundly expensive: around $15,000 per year. Now this study is significant because a few years ago the British National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence decided that patients couldn’t try one TNF inhibitor after another. But the researchers found that more than 80 percent of patients responded well to a new treatment if the previous treatment failed for one reason or other.

Reboot

Now that some of my old web pages are being forwarded here, and now that readers following my blog entries via RSS are suddenly getting new entries from an entirely different source, it’s time I explained what I’m doing here.

Welcome to jonathancrowe.net, my new home page. For nearly 10 years, mcwetboy.com served as my home page, and most of the content at that URL will still continue to be accessible there, but I’ve decided that it’s time to start something new.

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Rendezvous with Tempel

Comet Tempel 1 (9P/Tempel) from the Stardust probe, Feb. 14 2011

The Stardust probe visited Comet Tempel 1 last night, coming within 180 kilometres to get a look at the impact crater made in 2005 by the Deep Impact mission. The entire set of images from the flyby is also available. Phil Plait explains the mission. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell.)

Small-Town Journalism Jobs

In last week’s Ottawa Citizen, Algonquin College journalism professor Joe Banks argued that a job as a reporter is pretty much guaranteed for journalism students — provided that they’re willing to leave Ottawa and work at a small-town newspaper for, ahem, “starting” wages. I think he meant to reassure and to provide a reality check for students who worry that there won’t be any reporting jobs waiting for them when they graduate. But what I took away from the piece was something a little different — that small-town newspapers survive by paying low wages to novice reporters.

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