Methane Dragon Sleeps in the Deep #poem #poetry #methane #oceans

deep ocean tube worms

Tube worms – one of the larger deep ocean critters

Microbial mats
Set the table
With poisonous sulfides
For those that are able.

Beyond sandy shores,
More hitchhiking beasts
Find methane gas
A sumptuous feast.

How odd to discover
These gases are forming
In deep ocean cold
To drive global warming.

The dragon sleeps,
Its bubbling snores
Provide the incentive
To learn something more.

by Kate Rauner

Thanks to


Dropping Nuclear Bomb into a Hurricane is a Bad Idea #hurricane #hurricaneseason

Do you have a sneaking suspicion that dropping a nuclear bomb into a hurricane is a bad idea? Why did we ban above ground testing? Fallout!

Since the 1950s, the idea has come up often during hurricane season. Could we mere humans change the course of a hurricane?

If you want our greatest and scariest tool to seem small, consider that

The heat release of a hurricane is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes… Attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn’t promising either. BBC

But both regular folk and scientists have considered this idea. Maybe nuking hurricanes isn’t such an obviously bad idea. An above-ground nuclear blast lifts a massive column of air and debris many many miles into the air.

Because the “nuke a hurricane” myth won’t die, NOAA maintains a web page exclusively devoted to debunking this proposal. NatGeo

Sincere people with honest questions have asked about this. Thank you, NOAA, for your response. Science ought to answer questions from regular people. If you’re interested, take a look at the NOAA web page.


The Most Important Thing You Know About Wealth in the 20th Century Is Wrong

dollar symbolWhatever you believe about how profits should be shared, capitalism is the undisputed best way to create wealth. But nothing exists in a social vacuum, and capitalism may have had a big boost from unexpected trends.

Global wealth surged starting in the 19th century. What is less publicized is that the explosion was accompanied by similar breakout in population, and economists connect the two — when population grows, GDP has tended to rise with it.

World Population Growth ProjectionsWe may not deserve as much self-congratulations as we think. Advances in manufacturing, technology, and finance made possible a new economy. I recall reading a book by a South American economist that said, America’s ability to turn everything including the family home into capital allowed its people to surge ahead of traditional cultures.

But advances also occured in public health, understanding of disease, vaccines, and food production and safety. Human lifespans increased and infant mortality plummetted in the “First World.”

It’s easier for any economic system to grow when the population grows, and when workers become healthier and more plentiful. Now populations are shrinking in many wealthy countries, or growing only where immigration is embraced (with whatever mixed emotions) and in the poorer areas of the world.

Our “western” economic miracle assumes constant growth. What about when growth slows and reverses? What ya gonna do now, capitalism?

Oh, the world will coast along for a while, but success seems to breed – or rather, not breed… Hmm, you see the issue? Endless increases in the number of humans might doom the planet, so I’m not complaining, but our falling numbers means something has to change.

I’m not worried. I may not be able to imagine an economy with falling GDP, but GDP isn’t the only measure of success. People with new ideas will come forward. Humans are a resourceful species. A hundred years from now, people will pity us backwards sods. But someone is in for an interesting ride.

I usually post about science, and economics is called “the dismal science.” That’s a term from the 19th century when we were beginning our climb. Don’t spend a lot of time looking into the author who coined the term – he wanted to bring back slavery to increase sugar production. Eek!

Any of you with fresh new ideas, with visions of a society that I, a flat-footed engineeer, can’t imagine… get to work. The future needs you.

Coral in Devastated Florida Reef Hovering at Extinction – Breakthrough May Save the Species #coral #Florida #marinelife #aquarium

A heathy cluster of pillar coralFlorida’s coral reefs are in big trouble. Pillar coral has been reduced to a single male and single female cluster that are too far apart to breed.

Atlantic corals have never been bred in captivity, so when the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida, decided to try, hopes weren’t high.

But they did it!

It’s pure excitement to be the first to achieve a breakthrough in the world,” CEO of the Florida Aquarium Roger Germann told CNN. “Our team of experts cracked the code…that gives hope to coral in the Florida Reef Tract and to coral in the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans.”

Coral reefs take a beating world wide.

Runoff, pollution, overfishing, blast fishing, disease, invasive species, overuse by humans and coral mining and the digging of canals and access into islands and bays are localized threats to coral ecosystems.

Broader threats are sea temperature rise, sea level rise and ocean acidification, all associated with greenhouse gas emissions. wikipedia

Even air pollution can stunt corals. Yikes! Maybe corals and some of the fishes, crustaceans, and other marine life they support can exist in aquaria while we figure out how to create protected areas in the oceans. At least now, there’s a better chance.

This is Comforting or Terrifying – Which Depends on You #Genetics #science #people #research #why

model of a DNA moleculeYou’re a sane, rational person with a mind of your own. Sure, your genes may determine how tall you are or whether you can taste PTC (you did that test with PTC papers on your parents and siblings for high school science class, didn’t you?)

But surely, your tastes in foods come from your sophisticated lifestyle. And your taste in politicians from a hard-nosed study of facts and social morality.


Our actions are governed by hidden biological forces—which is to say that we have little or no control over our personal tastes. Our behaviors and preferences are profoundly influenced by our genetic makeup, by factors in our environment that affect our genes, and by other genes forced into our systems by the innumerable microbes that dwell inside us.

You and I are a couple of meat robots. We are our genes, but not in the old nature versus nurture dichotomy. It’s complicated. Our environment effects how our genes operate, and environment includes the microbes that call our bodies home. I love this quote*:

Genes are the piano keys, but the environment plays the song.

Nature and nurture are thoroughly intertwined.

Even in politics, genetics is close to your decisions. Do your neurotransmitters reward novelty? You’re more likely to be liberal. Is the amygdala structure of your brain relatively large? You’re more likely to be conservative.

That’s what I learned, and it leaves me with the question of, how much of me is my choice? My fault? Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed at you.

Genetics don’t mean I inevitably hunker down in a foxhole with my genetic friends and prepare to do battle with everyone else. Most of these statements come with qualifiers: More likely, tend to, generally.

Book Cover - non-fiction - Pleased To Meet Me

This is Bill Sullivan’s new non-fiction book – looks like an interesting read.

If you ever took one of the popular people-sorting personality tests like Meyers-Briggs, you know there’s a benefit to understanding that other people are not being stupid or malicious when they see the world differently. They can be valuable teammates who spot problems and opportunities you overlook.

Besides, you also have that big wad of gray matter in your brain that lets you think about things. Learning is part of the environment. So step outside your foxhole with hope. It takes a little effort to keep an open mind, but it also helps you keep an open heart.

Thanks to Bill Sullivan, professor of pharmacology and microbiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine, for the lovely quote above (*) and for his article.

Disturbing Scifi from the 1960s #sciencefiction #mentalhealthcare #scifi

I recently read a story by Philip K. Dick, a scifi author from the Golden Age. Buck Rogers it ain’t!

Science ficiton book cover - Martian Time SlipDick explored philosophical, social, and political themes, with stories dominated by monopolistic corporations, alternative universes, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. wikipedia

I read every word, all the way through, but “fun” is not the right description.  Mild spoilers follow.

The book comes from 1964. I think the right approach today is to view the story as the alternative history of a Mars colony in 1950s. Mars is barely habitable in shirt sleeves, with sparse plants and animals and a nearly-extinct race of Martians. Colonists use mimeograph machines and secretaries take dictation with a pad and pencil. Fascinating robotic teachers indoctrinate children in proper earthly culture.

Less adorably, one of the main characters makes remarks that are homophobic, misogynistic, and racist. He’s the villain, and casually cruel to everyone, but this can be off-putting. He uses the n-word to describe Martians who apparently look very much like African Saan people (another term for these people, Bushmen, is sometimes considered derogatory, depending on the usage.) There’s a brief suggestion that Martians and Humans were both seeded by some alien intelligence and so are related.

Despite the Martian setting, the story is about schizophrenia, which has become much more common on Mars than it is in real-life today. That term and “autism” are both used, and Dick presents his scifi interpretation of them – those effected experience multiple times in the past and future, which prevents them from relating to “normal” people. The visions these people experience (and we get to see through their eyes) are gruesome and apocalyptic, even for people with mundane lives. Dick gives a striking feel for such disconnects with repeated scenes, sometimes out of sequence, from different characters in the scene. The story shows sympathy for it’s characters, even the unsavory ones.

While it’s not an action-packed tale, terrible things happen in this story. There is guilt and shame from the father of an autistic boy. There is infidelity. There is suicide, and given Dick’s own dark life experiences, I wonder if this comes from something more real than imagination. That will keep me thinking about the book for a long time.

Cover of scifi magazine Galaxy

Dick wrote the cover story for this edition

I know a lot has changed in American culture since Dick wrote his story. I suspect a lot has changed in our understanding of schizophrenia and autism too, but I have no idea how readers familiar with these conditions will feel about the story. Please leave a comment and let me know.

The book, republished in 2012, is popular on Amazon and has 4 stars, where several reviewers find it’s look at mental illness to be kindly and sympathetic.

BTW, you know Dick’s work. The movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report are based on his writings.

Citizen Scientists Study Hummingbirds in SW New Mexico #bird #birdwatching #citizenscience #ornithology

I visited the Mimbres Culture Heritage Center when they hosted a hummingbird banding weekend. Hummingbirds are fierce little warriors and fascinating to watch. I have three feeders out for them at my house now, and my windy ridgetop is not the best birding location in the county.

On your vacation through southwest New Mexico, be sure to visit the Mimbres ruins and, if you time it right, see the hummers.