Archive for the ‘Science and Nature’ Category

finally some outside-the-box thinkers

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

box, solar system, whatever. someone finally published a paper correlating the mostly quite regular patterns of periodic extinctions to the earth’s position and rotation relative to the big life-giving fireball.

thank you thank you.

i’m still waiting for the chart of global warming as function of krispy kreme donuts consumed by al gore. used to like that guy, a lot, but these days, i’d file him under ‘road to hell is paved with good intentions’.

sparing you the big rant on this one, for today at least, if we’re going to really understand the biology of our planet, we must first stop acting like environmental imperialists. our ecosystem has been here much longer than we have, it’s seen greater threats than chevron.

humankind has always loved to overexaggerate its stunning strength and dominance over, well, everything. but perhaps the most inconvenient truth of all is this: progress will not ever happen until we stop infantilizing the environment, and begin acting as its appointed stewards.

really very lovely

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

Very happy to see some lovely new news, not all bad news, today.

four-legged flyers? or maybe not.

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

So it’s not true that all science is physics or stamp collecting. Sometimes, it’s creative writing.

When it comes to studying ancient birds, it’s often necessary to make a few assumptions and hope that future evidence will support your theories. Sometimes taking that leap can jumpstart what is “known” and help people see what is actually there. It’s awfully easy to overlook important, obvious, and often totally banal evidence that’s lying in the dirt when you’re required to, well, stand on the shoulders of so many giants.

Birds have been around for longer than we can really even fathom, and sometimes it takes a creative leap to look around the existing wisdom and suggest something new. The back and forth chatter between the Arboreal and Thecodontal theorists have probably done more to harm progress in this field than anything; when you’re busy defending a theory in a hot and public argument, you’re hardly open and receptive to new evidence.

I particularly enjoyed this suggestion of the importance of hindlimbs in flight evolution, from a PhD student at the University of Calgary. It’s creative and a bit daring, and it’s getting press, too. Good work.

That said, and while I have yet to read the full paper, the thesis still doesn’t ring quite right to me. Anything has aerodynamic properties, if you throw enough wind at it. And there’s a kind of economy of form common to all living things; volume: surface area ratios must exist within certain tolerances, and the presence of skin over muscle and tissue tends to follow a pretty specific set of curves. And I’d love to hear more scientists discussing that economy of form; observing it where it is alive in the ancient species of today. You cannot watch a flightless cormorant without the realization that you are looking through an open window, one that opens on hundreds of thousands of years into the past.

It’s easy to toss rocks at the longstanding work of many devoted and educated scholars, and I certainly don’t want to do that. But I do believe the viability of existing theories would be greatly enhanced through closer observation of extant, living and breathing birds.

The abstract is here.

today was a good day

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Today was a good day: I slept in, woke to perfect weather, had a fantastic lunch, bought some coffee beans, and kicked back and thought about art. But a year ago today, that was among the Best Days of My Life.

July 21, 2005, was way, way up there.

A trip deep into a secret world, nesting grounds, alternately lush and desolate landscape dotted with dessicated corpses, yet somehow teeming with life too.

Scaled things, feathered things, things with flippers, things with no backbones, things with fins. Frigatebirds stealing food from blue-footed booby chicks. Herons fishing. Brown noddies stealing food from pelicans. Tropicbirds wheeling overhead.

North Seymour Island, and South Plaza. My last day on Las Islas Encantadas, the Galapagos Islands.

Everybody finding a mate, building a nest, or feeding their young. Skyline of Daphne major and Daphne minor. Exquisite. At least 15 of my all-time best and favorite photographs are from that day.

Life, death, rebirth. Millions of years worth of it. Everything they tell you about nature, all the stuff Darwin wrote about. So much more than you could ever hope to understand, but you can see it. All of it, in just one day. Just a day there changes you forever – we got to spend an entire week.

No matter what else I accomplish, or experience, that day in July will remain one of the Best Days of My Life. It was the kind of day that blows the scale. The kind of day that helps molds you into the kind of person that you’d always hoped you would one day be lucky enough to be.

And people say I have too much time on my hands.

Thursday, July 20th, 2006

Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy book ain’t got nothin’ on this.

Those indeed are real bird parts, lovingly flattened and pasted down into books.