Sunday, May 25, 2008

Phoenix has landed!

Waiting for the signal from the lander...

Still transmitting! W00T!

7:00 nearly every weekend morning...

They aren't mine, they came with the S.O., but sometimes, it would be nice to sleep in...

Suburban Wildlife 1

Every now and then, nature makes itself seen, even in one of the most built-out counties in Florida, Pinellas. Here I begin a photo series, mostly taken by yours truly, of wildlife in our suburban area.

Here I begin with the obligatory charismatic megafauna. This little fella (little, heh, he's about a foot tall) is our neighborhood Red Tailed Hawk, perched in our neighbor's Flamboyant tree (click for the big version). This was taken a few months ago, just before the tree put out its leaves. You can see the neighbor's main power line crossing behind him.

Before we ever saw him, we had some good idea that there was a fast predatory bird in the 'hood. Every now and then we would see a streak across the sky and a Ring Necked dove would vanish from a power line, leaving behind nothing but a cloud of feathers, just like in the cartoons.

We have seen him a few other times, and if I ever manage to get a proper portrait, I'll be sure to post it here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


NASA's latest mars probe, Phoenix, is almost ready to land. Click the image to go to their mission page. Tomorrow, Sunday May 25 at some time before 8pm eastern time (US). It's supposed to land near the northern polar region of Mars and its primary mission is to look for water ice. Ice and to investigate the climate. It's two main goals are to look for water ice and investigate the climate and to look for signs of life. Three! It's three goals are...

Sorry, I'll stop that. It's silly.

Climatology, geology and the search for life or life's traces are the major goals of this lander, and it's got a great collection of tools to do all that with. Built at the Lockheed facility in Littleton, CO (I used to drive by it once a week or so when I was in high school) its suite of instruments is interesting, with MECA as the really interesting unit. Wet chemistry and optical and atomic force microscopy. The page linked is rather old, saying things like "The probe will probably consist of three small spikes that will be inserted into the ends of an excavated trench." Probably? Isn't it a bit late to change your minds now?

I don't see any mention of the one instrument I would have tried to put on it: a mass spectrometer. Life on mars, if there still is any would probably be very small, maybe analogous to bacteria on Earth (look down, you can probably see Earth from where you are). Life on Mars in the past was also most likely bacteria-like. Small things eking out a living very frugally, to the point where even the isotopes they use are preferentially the lighter ones. This leaves telltale signatures in the stuff they leave behind, and a skewed isotope ratio would be a good indicator of life, past or present.

They need more microbiologists on staff at NASA. Maybe I should apply.

In any event, I'll be glued to the computer, watching NASA TV probably starting at 7ish. I hope all goes well, if this mission fails, that will bring the Mars totals to .500. Who knew landing on a little red rock hurtling through space would be so hard?

*EDIT: Watching the live coverage, I just learned that there is a mass spec aboard. That pleases me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Congratulations Californians!

California has made marriage equal.
I hope the other 48 states will soon follow suit. Thank you Mass for setting the tone.

I was surprised to see so many states that had constitutional amendments barring "same sex marriage," including my home state of Colorado. I thought they were more enlightened than that, as a whole.

OK, dear readers (though I guess that's just me at this point), I have a confession to make. Before I left the beautiful state of Colorado to go off to college in 1994, I made a bad choice on a ballot. I voted for the ban on same sex marriage (prop 2?). I bought into the "special rights" argument. Looking back, I can't figure why I thought that was reasonable, but there it is. Hell, I even labeled myself as a libertarian at the time! A libertarian, voting against civil liberties? How the hell did I make that work in my head?

Well, I've learned and grown. I'm sorry for that vote I cast. I have made gay and lesbian friends that I can't live without. One friend still lives in Colorado and, though we don't talk as often as we should, it breaks my heart that her marriage (from another state) is not recognized in her home state. It's against the law, according to the state constitution, that she married the person she loves, simply because they were both born female.

L., C, (I'm not going to use your names out of respect for your privacy) if you ever come across this post, I'm sorry for that vote, and I promise to remember what equality really means from now on.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Just when you thought it was safe... go back in the water, Pelicans ATTACK!

I told ya Florida was weird.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


Pete M. over at Pharyngula makes an interesting point:

When you act just to avoid punishment, it isn't clear that you're acting morally at all! Think about someone who gives money to your favorite charity, and you think, "Hey, what a great person. How nice." Then you come to find out that this was a condition on their avoiding jail-time, set by some judge who was perhaps a little full of herself. Now, what do you think? Did this person do something good; do they deserve moral credit?

Morality by coercion isn't morality at all.

Storm over Fort Jefferson

This is a lucky shot I got a few summers ago at Fort jefferson. Ft. Jeff is on one of the islands of the Dry Tortugas, some 90 miles west of Key West. I was there doing a study on the water quality, and they let us stay in the fort. Let me tell you, that little island is fantastic once the tourists leave on the last ferry at 3:00 PM. There is no noise aside from the diesel generator (and that can't be heard from more than about 10 meters away), just the wind and waves. The light pollution at night is almost nil. I watched satellites pass overhead, with the glow of the Milky Way arm behind. Meteorites... Ah, it was lovely, and then this storm rolled in and it got even more fun. I can't remember how much digital film I used to finally capture this pic, but it was a 30 second exposure, with the camera set on a brick on the top of the fort and the delayed shutter, so I wouldn't mess it up with vibration. Good times. Click it for all its strikingness.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


OK, this is just beautiful. 

This new fossil is amazing.  The classic Archeopteryx is beautiful, but look at those feathers! Ecoconfuciusornis is beautiful.  Hell, I'm a microbiologist, I don't do things with nuclei, but wow!  What else is China holding back on us?

The column is quite sparse with the information, and I'll have to wait for someone with a more paleo bent to help me understand this finding's place in the great bush that is life on this planet, but I just thought this was too frickin cool not to mention.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Florida Weirdness

Hiaasen was right.  I officially live in a really weird fuckin' state.

A substitute teacher was fired over a magic trick.  Turns out he's a wiccan and he was fired for "Wizardry".  Cue scary music.  Was he Dumbledore or Voldemort?  More here.  

Florida has also managed to make illegal "Truck Nutz."  You know, those bull testicle facsimiles that poorly endowed gentlemen hang off the trailer hitches of their ginormous vehicles? They're gone.  Heaven forfend that someone might get the vapors over seeing a representation of a reproductive gland made of plastic hanging from the back of a truck of the people all those V!@gr@ spams are aimed at.

There is more, but I need a beer to get the taste of stupid out of my mouth.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Flower 2

Once again, I have no idea what this flower is and again it came from Yosemite.   This one was taken in the valley, rather than on the north ridge.  About 1 cm.  Again, any ID (no not that ID, I mean identification) would be great.  Leave a comment. Again, click to enlarge.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Flower 1

I've got lots of pix sitting here on my hard drive, waiting to be shared, so I think I'll start with a series of flower pictures.  This is an unknown species that I saw in Yosemite National Park.  Click to get a larger view.  If anyone knows what it it, please leave a comment.  IIRC, it was about 1.5 cm across, but may have been smaller.

Ain't he a peach?

Ben Stein on the Trinity Broadcast Network, in an interview with Paul Crouch Jr.:
Stein:   When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch:   That’s right.

Stein:   …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch:   Good word, good word.

[emphasis mine]
Nice, eh?

Expelled Exposed has the real scoop.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Water Hyacinth

This is a water Hyacinth.  It's an invasive species introduced to Florida a long time ago and has become a major problem, choking waterways and taking over lots of fresh water habitat.  But damn, those flowers are pretty (click to embiggen).  This was taken in my back yard a few years ago and the nasty invaders are now gone.  The back yard pond is now home to a water lilly and lots of frogs.  You'll have to wait for pics of those.  

Getting used to Blogger 2

Well, the vid worked fine, now how about another pic of your humble narrator.  

Hey, this blogger stuff ain't too hard, even for a relative luddite like me.

That pic is a few years old, but the bike looks the same.  She's a Honda Magna, a 750cc v4 and she's a sweet little ride.
Her rider is quite a bit more hirsute now, though. And I can't vouch for my sweetness of riding.

Getting used to blogger 1

Let's see if I can manage embedding a video from Youtube:

Happy day for Florida

Scary she-devil Ronda Storms didn't get her way.  

Though the senate did pass the Orwellianly titled "Academic Freedom" bill, the House failed to get it through before they shut down for the summer.  Brandon Haught and the team at Florida Citizens for Science covered the whole thing here.

Hello World

Let me introduce myself.

My name is Mike.  I am Lab Boy.

And now I'm a blogger, I guess.