On our walk this evening, we happened across the first snake we’ve ever encountered in Shawville in the eight years we’ve been living here. Unfortunately, he was also stiff as a board. This small Northern Red-bellied Snake (they only come in small, especially when they’re male, as this one appeared to be) was lying in the middle of the PPJ bike trail. Here’s another view. Not sure what killed him: as far as we could see, no part of him was squooshed, sliced open or missing, which suggests that he wasn’t stomped upon, run over, or eviscerated by predators. My first guess was actually dehydration, but I have no idea if that’s even plausible.
My Correct Views on Everything
↳ August 2011
The portion of Route 148 between Luskville and Eardley that washed out last June, forcing a lengthy and slow detour along narrow gravel back roads for nearly the entire summer, has finally reopened — at least, that’s what teachers who commute along that highway told Jennifer today.
Not a moment too soon, either. The Shawville Fair starts Thursday night, and I can’t imagine how that detour would have worked with all the additional traffic the fair generates.
This pair of galaxies is listed as UGC 9618, Arp 302, and VV 340. Whatever you call it, it’s a pair of interacting spiral galaxies 450 million light years away in the constellation Boötes. This very purple composite image captures the pair in X-ray (coloured purple) and optical light — the former from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the latter from the Hubble. Via Bad Astronomy. Image credit: NASA
The U.S. patent on Enbrel (etanercept) expires in 2012. While biologics are too complex for there to be generic versions when their patents expire, the FDA is currently working on the question of “biosimilar” products — cheaper biologics that achieve roughly the same goals. (Previously: Generic Versions of Biologics?)
Arthritis Today reports on a new study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, that found that ankylosing spondylitis increases the risk of heart disease and stroke “by as much as 25 to 60 percent, depending on the cardiovascular or cerebrovascular condition. It also found that the increased risk was greatest for younger — age 20 to 39 years — AS patients.”
Most people with AS have the HLA-B27 antigen, but why having that gene makes us more predisposed to AS has so far been unknown. A study published in Nature Genetics tries to answer this question: as the press release explains, “reported a link between a gene producing protein, ERAP1, and HLA-B27. For example, ERAP1 was associated with ankylosing spondylitis in HLA-B27 positive patients; whereas, there was no association between ERAP1 and AS in HLA-B27 negative patients.” Which I can’t pretend to understand, but I get the gist that this may be a step toward figuring out how AS works.
To bookmark: Action Pontiac, a blog full of information about the Municipality of Pontiac. (Not to be confused with the Regional County Municipality of Pontiac, in which Shawville is situated; Pontiac-the-municipality lies east of Pontiac-the-county, and encompasses Quyon, Eardley, Luskville and Breckenridge — essentially, almost everything east of Gold Mine Road, west of the Gatineau city limits, and south of Gatineau Park).
It’s taken me a while to get to the second volume in Jules Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires, The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras). At this rate it will take me more than a decade to get through all 54 novels in this series. Clearly I am going to have to pick up the pace.
Hatteras was first serialized in the Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation from March 1864 to December 1865; the definitive version was published as a book a year later. It’s listed as the second volume in Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires, though the sequence is a bit confusing: A Journey to the Centre of the Earth was published, and From the Earth to the Moon was serialized in another periodical, during Hatteras’s run, and saw book publication sooner, but come after Hatteras in the VE numbering.
The role of maps in fantasy is an ongoing interest of mine, one I’ve begun researching in earnest. (Watch this space: I’m up to something.) So I was naturally interested when SF Signal asked a number of authors, illustrators, other publishing professionals and readers, as part of their Mind Meld series of interviews, the following question: “What is the role and place of maps in Fantasy novels? Which are your favorites? Why?”
Among the new compact cameras Nikon announced today was the Coolpix AW100, a ruggedized, waterproof compact camera with built-in GPS. (Press release.) This is more noteworthy for Nikon, which hasn’t had a waterproof camera since the Nikonos series was discontinued in 2001, than it is for digital cameras in general. There are plenty of ruggedized, waterproof compact digital cameras, most of which have GPS: Digital Photography Review compared six of them earlier this month. The AW100’s specs look comparable.
Time for another look at the asteroid Vesta, I think. Images from the Dawn spacecraft are being released on a daily basis. Much has been made of the “snowman” series of craters, the focus of the images for August 13 and August 17 (the actual images were taken on August 6). But I prefer the bigger picture, like the above picture, taken August 11, showing Vesta’s cratered landscape. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.
ScienceDaily reports on the recovery of the Eastern Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris collaris) in the Missouri Ozarks. By the mid-1980s, the lizards had disappeared from 75 percent of the Ozark glades in which they had previously been found. Biologist Alan Templeton discovered that the culprit was forest fire suppression: a lack of forest fires meant that red cedars colonized and wiped out their glade habitats. Small burns helped translocated lizards survive in separate glades between 1984 and 1994, but it took widespread burning for the lizards to thrive:
The major revelation of the work was that burning entire mountains and valleys, called landscape-level burning, undid ecological damage that was slowed but not stopped by smaller prescribed burns.
In fact, it allowed the lizards to undertake their own expanded restoration effort without the assistance of worried biologists.
Moreover, burning benefited many species besides the lizards, including a rare fen orchid and fen dragonfly, that were flying under the radar and would probably never have commanded labor intensive restoration efforts on their own.
In short, fire turned restoration from a time-consuming labor-intensive process to one that ran pretty much on its own.
Thanks to Fred Schueler for the link. Alternate news link. Templeton’s research was published in the September 2011 issue of Ecology. Photo of an Eastern Collared Lizard in Missouri’s Peck Ranch Conservation Area, where Templeton did his restoration work, by Anthony Zukoff; reprinted under a Creative Commons licence.
Earlier this month we visited Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum, in Saint-Constant, Quebec. (It’s run by the non-profit Canadian Railway Historical Association rather than, say, the Department of Canadian Heritage.) We’d been there before, in October 2004, but Jennifer has been itching to go back and take another look for some time.
After nearly seven years, what’s changed? Not that much, actually: most of the locomotives and rolling stock hadn’t so much as moved. But the streetcar was back in operation, and the model railroad, which only existed as the most skeletal of benchwork in 2004, is now mostly finished. We also managed to ride the miniature train — something that was a bit more hang-on-to-your-hat-no-literally than I expected.
Anyway, by now it should be no surprise to you that I took lots of photos (rather more than I did in 2004). Jennifer took a bunch too, and will presumably upload them at some point. (That’s a hint, dear: iPhoto is beckoning.)
The first time I heard about huitlacoche, a parasitic fungus that grows on corn, was on Steve, Don’t Eat It! — probably not the most positive way to learn about an exotic and unusual food. Known as corn smut in English, huitlacoche is seen as a delicacy in Mexico — it was eaten in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica — and is now growing in popularity. Now don’t be so squeamish: you don’t object to the idea of eating mushrooms or truffles, so why should this fungus be any different? Via Aaron Cohen. Photo credit: CIMMYT (CC licence).
At the very least I can report that I haven’t noticed any side effects so far. It appears that I’m tolerating piroxicam at least as well as naproxen. It’s harder to figure out how well it’s dealing with my symptoms. I’ve been in flare for the past couple of weeks, but that’s happened often enough with naproxen. I’ve also been expecting elevated pain and inflammation during the changeover.
There have been some differences in how the pain and inflammation are distributing themselves: lately it’s been more severe at the SI joint, less so at the peripheral joints. I’ve also been feeling a bit less drained and a bit more lively. The extent to which I can attribute that to the piroxicam, and not to the placebo effect or the fluctuations in my symptoms (which generally range from somewhat noticeable to fucking-OW), that I don’t know yet. It’s still too early to tell.
Wired UK reports on how an OpenStreetMap contributor got arrested in Reading after “a paranoid guy called the police.” (Here’s the contributor’s own take.)
On-the-ground surveying with a GPS is a great way to contribute to OpenStreetMap, but it’s not hard to see how it might be construed as suspicious activity. The problem isn’t actually the GPS, which is inconspicuous enough unless you’re staring at it every five seconds, it’s the note-taking that goes along with it. Even here in Shawville, when we were surveying a couple of residential streets, one of Jennifer’s co-workers spotted us and later asked us what the hell we had been doing. We were writing down house numbers to add to the map — but stopping every few metres to write down the house number at each corner does look a bit odd. So does taking a photo of every street sign (to confirm road names independently of third-party mapping data). It helps to be as discreet and non-creepy as possible.
Fortunately, it’s a small town and we’re known, so we haven’t run into any serious trouble yet. If asked, I usually explain that I’m mapping the town for a website called OpenStreetMap, which is like Wikipedia for maps: everybody runs around with a GPS to create a map of the world. (At that point their eyes usually glaze over.)
The James Bay Road (Route de la Baie-James) is a paved 620-km highway running north from Matagami to Radisson, Quebec, and the James Bay Road Website catalogues practically every kilometre of it, along with other, more interesting (read: calamitous) roads radiating out from it: the Trans-Taiga Road (Route Transtaïga) and the North Road (Route du Nord). Which makes northern Quebec that much more visible, if not accessible.
Chad Orzel on promoting science and science education: “If we had a grass-roots movement in support of science, that would be a Good Thing. What we have, instead is a small and scattered collection of mid-level organizations working against elite opposition and general public apathy. And we have no-one to blame for this situation but ourselves.” He fingers academia’s active disdain of popular science writing, public education and outreach: those who could be standing up for science, aren’t, because that’s seen as a distraction from “real” work. Via Emily Lakdawalla.
Jennifer spent today replacing the battered vinyl edging in the front garden with paving stones, which should class up the joint a bit — at least once the grass grows back. She dug up a lot of dirt — those stones had to be ballasted, which required more excavation. This left a lot of extra dirt around, which was put to use smoothing out a depression in the yard. So we have some bald patches. (Hopefully not for too long.)
The Lake Erie Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum), a subspecies of Northern Water Snake found only on islands in western Lake Erie, is listed as an endangered species in Canada, and is protected under Ontario law. In Ohio, however, its numbers have recovered enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is removing it from the endangered species list, Kingsnake.com reports. The snake’s U.S. population is nearly 12,000 — twice the number set out under recovery criteria and more than 10 times the estimated Canadian population. Despite the delisting, It’s still listed as endangered under Ohio state law and as such is still protected. Photo credit: Benny Mazur (CC licence).
The Necklace Nebula (PN G054.2-03.4), 15,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagitta, is a planetary nebula comprising, it is believed, two stars. This false-colour composite image was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera on July 2, 2011; red represents nitrogen emissions, green oxygen, and blue hydrogen. Here’s a closeup. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).
Toxic co-workers may be hazardous to your health: “While this correlation might not be surprising — friendly people help reduce stress, and stress is deadly — the magnitude of the ‘friendly colleague effect’ is a bit unsettling: people with little or no ‘peer social support’ in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study, especially if they began the study between the ages of 38 and 43. In contrast, the niceness of the boss had little impact on mortality.” Astonishingly, high-powered bosses going on about their stress are, depending on their gender, full of it: the more control you have at work, the less stress and impact on your health — if you’re a man. If you’re a woman, it’s still worse.
Christine Haughney’s article in today’s New York Times explores the relationship autistic children have with trains.
The link between trains and autism is well documented. Autism refers to a spectrum of disorders that typically includes impairment in social interaction and sometimes includes stereotyped interests, like trains. People with autism have difficulty processing and making sense of the world, so they are drawn to predictable patterns, which, of course, trains run by.
That explains why children with autism tend to be attracted more to subways, which travel on back-and-forth tracks, with little variability, than to planes, which move in more variable fashion. And they like subjects with a lot of detail that they can master.
Emily Lakdawalla assembled this colour composite photo of five of Saturn’s moons from Cassini imagery. (Jason Major did the same thing with slightly different results.) It’s a composite only inasmuch as imagery from red, green and blue channels was assembled into a full-colour image, with the positions of the moons lined up (they moved a little between each exposure) — the moons really were in those positions at once. An original is here. From left to right: Janus, Pandora, Enceladus, Mimas and Rhea. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute; color composite by Emily Lakdawalla. I’ve sharpened the crap out of Emily’s final result.
“That a young pianist has come along who can seemingly play anything, and easily, is not the big deal it would have been a short time ago,” writes Anthony Tommasini in an article in yesterday’s New York Times that documents the steady rise in proficiency among young pianists, to the point where a virtuoso from the early 20th century wouldn’t even get into today’s Julliard. Via @followtheninth.
When Words Collide is a new convention in Calgary that advertises itself as being in the style of Readercon, which given how I feel about Readercon got my attention. It’s taking place this weekend, but I’m making a note of it for future reference. (Sigh. There are too many conventions out there, and more new ones all the time.)
We’ve had to put up with your demands for spoiler alerts, and your complaints when a detail of a movie or TV show you haven’t seen or (more rarely) a book you haven’t read is inadvertently divulged, for some time now.
I suppose we understand when a movie has a serious plot twist, like Witness for the Prosecution, The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. Finding out about it before you get a chance to see it prevents you from enjoying the surprise.
A Sharp-tailed Snake (Contia tenuis) has been found near Whistler, B.C. This is the first time a sharptail has been found on the mainland; it had been previously reported only from the eastern tip of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. It’s an endangered species in Canada, so this is big news. I had to laugh at this, though: “Concerned about poachers and collectors — as well as over-enthusiastic herpetologists from all over — Anthony would only say he found the snake in the Pemberton area.” I assure you that this cute and tiny slug-eater has little to no commercial value; I’ve never heard of anyone keeping it. Photo credit: Greg Schechter (CC licence).
This lovely superbubble of gas and dust goes by the rather unwieldy and unpoetic name of LHA 120-N 44. It surrounds open cluster NGC 1929 in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It’s 170,000 light years away and 325 by 250 light years across, which is to say, big. This final picture was processed by Manu Mejias from images taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope array through hydrogen-alpha, helium-I and II, and oxygen-III filters. Via Bad Astronomy. Image credit: ESO/Manu Mejias.
It’s long been believed that the Moon’s presence has kept the Earth habitable by stabilizing its axial tilt (or obliquity), preventing it from swinging too chaotically. (Imagine one of the poles pointing directly at the Sun and what that would do to the biosphere.) It would follow that, to be habitable, terrestrial planets orbiting other stars would also need a big moon. Since it’s estimated that only one percent of them have such a moon, that doesn’t bode well for life on other worlds.
But new research suggests that the Moon isn’t required to keep the Earth’s axial tilt in line: it does help, but the other planets (especially Jupiter) would have been enough to keep the Earth’s tilt from varying more than 10 to 20 degrees over a half billion years — enough to keep a stable biosphere going. Which bodes well for other planets. Via io9.
Brigette Zacharczenko is a graduate student in entomology. As a side business, she makes plush animals of insects, other invertebrates, and other interesting animals; she sells them at her Etsy store, Weird Bug Lady. I’m not sure where else you could get plush nudibranchs, water bears, copepods or eelpouts. She’s also fond of reptiles: there are several plush snakes available, including a garter snake (dibs!).
We spotted a huge number of caterpillars climbing through (and munching on) the dill in our garden yesterday. So of course my reaction was to grab the camera and take some photos through the macro lens, rather than, you know, squash them for eating our dill. (Evidently we don’t use dill that much.) It turns out that they were the larvae of the Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes), which lays its eggs on dill and other plants. Whence the name “dillworm” for its caterpillars, I guess.
Jennifer got one of them to evert its osmeterium, but my photos of that didn’t turn out. (Bug photos are hard, you know?)
College professor Kim Pearson has ankylosing spondylitis. In that context I’ve known her in an online sense for years, though we’ve never actually met. Last week, she wrote an entry in BlogHer’s “Own Your Beauty” series about what AS did to her body image (her case was quite severe) and how she came to terms with it. One thing she did was to post photos of herself “from toddlerhood to middle age”:
Seeing the photos over the years helped me absorb the truth that the body I had once had, the one that pressed its strength against the world, danced in moonlight, and rose with the dawn to suckle my first born — that body had been transformed. What has replaced it may not be as graceful on the outside, but it has its own rough-hewn appeal. It endures. it holds off the ravages of time so I can love a bit longer and learn a bit more. And it still lets me dance.
In 2008, Italian surgeon Paolo Zamboni turned the multiple sclerosis world on its head by announcing that MS was vascular rather than neurological, that MS was a result of constricted veins in the neck (“chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency”), and that surgery to relieve the blocked veins — “liberation” — would relieve MS symptoms. The responses were predictable: the medical community was cautious and skeptical; desperate MS patients, by and large, flipped out, demanding clinical trials and doing what they could to get access to the procedure outside the country. Winnipeg journalist Ingeborg Boyens writes about her own, mixed experience with liberation surgery: relief only lasted a few months. And with other patients reporting only temporary results and a few even dying from the procedure, the bloom appears to be off the liberation lily.
This image of spiral galaxy NGC 634 was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope last May. It’s a false-colour image: the red, green and blue channels were taken through near-infrared, red, and yellow filters, respectively. NGC 634 is about 250 million light years away in the constellation Triangulum, and was the location of a Type Ia supernova observed in 2008. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA. Via Bad Astronomy.
In this week’s New Yorker, Nicholas Schmindle reports on the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden, in a long, detailed article that goes behind the scenes from the beginning. It makes for gripping reading. You’ll want to read it.