Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 2014 Balls of Stone Award

The 2014 Balls of Stone Award absolutely has to go to Dr Robert Alan Eustace, the Google Senior Vice-President of Knowledge, who broke Felix Baumgartner's parachute high jump and freefall records from the edge of space. This attempt was done quietly, without fanfare, and stunned everyone, including Baumgartner I am sure. Eustace is a 58-year-old computer scientist, not a professional athlete, and his feat in my opinion astonishing. Here are the salient facts: On October 24, 2014, Eustace made a jump from the stratosphere. The launch-point for his jump was from an abandoned runway in Roswell, New Mexico, where he began his balloon-powered ascent early that morning. He reached a reported maximum altitude of 135,908 feet—25.740 miles (41.425 km)—but the final number submitted to the World Air Sports Federation was 135,889.108 ft—25.736573 miles (41.419000 km). The balloon used for the feat was manufactured by the Balloon Facility of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Hyderabad, India.His descent to Earth lasted 15 minutes and stretched nearly 26 miles (42 km) with peak speeds exceeding 821.45 miles (1,322.00 km) per hour; setting new world records for the highest free fall jump, and total free fall distance.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Government Stupidity: Case Study #1

(CNN) -- The Aral Sea was once the world's fourth-largest lake. Now much of it is a vast toxic desert straddling the borders of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, two former Soviet states in central Asia.In recently released images, NASA's Earth Observatory shows the extent of the lake's recession over the past 14 years. The damage reached its peak this year, when the eastern lobe of the South Aral Sea -- which actually was the center of the original lake -- dried up completely. Until the 1960s, the Aral Sea was fed by two rivers, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which brought snowmelt from mountains to the southeast, and local rainfall. But in the 1960s the Soviet Union diverted water from the two rivers into canals to supply agriculture in the region. With the loss of water, the lake began to recede and its salinity levels began to rise. Fertilizers and chemical runoff contaminated the lake bed. As the lakebed became exposed, winds blew the contaminated soil onto the surrounding croplands, meaning even more water was needed to make the land suitable for agriculture, according to an Earth Observatory release. The falling water levels changed the local climate, too. Without the lake water to moderate temperatures, winters became colder and summers hotter, the Earth Observatory said.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Woof said the Lion!

China zoo under fire for disguising dog as lion
(AFP) BEIJING — A Chinese zoo's supposed "African lion" was exposed as a fraud when the dog used as a substitute started barking.
The zoo in the People's Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.
It quoted a customer surnamed Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made -- but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled "African lion" was barking.
The beast was in fact a Tibetan mastiff -- a large and long-haired breed of dog.
"The zoo is absolutely cheating us," the paper quoted Liu, who was charged 15 yuan ($2.45) for the ticket, as saying. "They are trying to disguise the dogs as lions."
Three other species housed incorrectly included two coypu rodents in a snake's cage, a white fox in a leopard's den, and another dog in a wolf pen.
The chief of the park's animal department, Liu Suya, told the paper that while it does have a lion, it had been taken to a breeding facility and the dog -- which belonged to an employee -- had been temporarily housed in the zoo over safety concerns.
Users of China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo service mocked the zoo.
"This is not funny at all. It's sad for both the zoo and the animals," said one.
"They should at least use a husky to pretend to be a wolf," said another.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!

What a tough guy Nelson Mandela is. 95 years old today and battling for his life in a South African hospital. It would be lovely for Africa and the world, if this incredibly respected, elder statesman, is able to live with us for a while longer. The world will be a much poorer place when he finally passes on. Mandela is an inspiration; not perfect, but a battler, survivor and a study in tolerance. A trait that all of can do with in larger doses.

Hey Big Nose!!!

Utah is a true Happy Hunting Ground for scientists and dinosaur buffs alike. This state is jam-packed with fossils all over, with new species being found frequently. In the most recent, paleontologists have discovered a new dinosaur, a Triceratops relative with a supersize schnoz that once roamed present-day Utah. Nasutoceratops titusi belonged to a group of horned dinosaurs called ceratopsids, large four-legged herbivores that thrived during the Cretaceous period, according to a study released last Tuesday. Most ceratopsids were Triceratops-style, with huge heads bearing a small horn over the nose, a horn over each eye, and an ornate frill—a bony protrusion that fanned out over the base of the neck. But the newfound dinosaur looked quite different, with a small horn over its oversize nose; extremely long, curved horns over its eyes; and a simple frill without hooks and spikes. The first part of the name Nasutoceratops titusi translates to "big nose horned face" in Latin. Cooooool. (Thanks to National Geographic).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Good Shark, Good Shark!

MAJURO, Marshall Islands — A man lost at sea for 15 weeks was rescued after a serendipitous meeting with a shark. Toaki Teitoi, a 41-year-old policeman in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati, said he had drifted in a wooden boat for 106 days before he was picked up by a fishing boat near the Marshall Islands. The man had watched a movie about being lost at sea one day before he and his brother-in-law embarked May 27 on what was supposed to be a two-hour trip from Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, to Teitoi's hometown, Maiana.

Teitoi and his brother-in-law, Lelu Falaile, 52, stopped to fish along the way and decided to sleep on the boat. When the pair awoke the next day, they found they had drifted out of sight of the island, and soon ran out of fuel. Teitoi told the Herald the pair had food, but no water. Falaile died July 4 due to dehydration, he said.

"I left him there overnight and slept next to him like at a funeral," Teitoi told the Herald. He then buried his brother-in-law at sea. A day later, a storm blew through the area, providing Teitoi with fresh water. The morning of Sept. 11 brought a fishing boat into his sights, but he remained unseen. He fell asleep and awoke in the afternoon to the sound of scratching: a six-foot shark was circling the boat, bumping the hull as it went.

"He was guiding me to a fishing boat," Teitoi said. "I looked up and there was the stern of a ship and I could see crew with binoculars looking at me." Teitoi said if the shark had not nudged him awake, he would not have been able to alert the crew of the ship that he was in trouble, and the crew "might have carried on sailing past me." Teitoi was given food and water and remained with the men for a few days. He is scheduled to fly home on Sunday.

Story thanks to Stephanie Grimes of KSL!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mirror Lake Fourteen

And so we finally wended our way back to the northwest corner of the lake and to the parking lot. There waited warm, dry clothes for the girl, and a clean socks for Dad.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mirror Lake Thirteen

And then onto the unnatural fauna, the fishermen, who were clustered around the north west end of the lake. They were all enjoying themselves catching little rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss).

Mirror Lake Twelve

Then we ran into some of the local flora and fauna while Keziah was sunning herself on a rock. First there was a cute little chipmunk (Neotamias umbrinus) and some water weeds that looked like long spaghetti floating on top of the water. I honestly don't know how anything grows in that icy water.

Mirror Lake Eleven

So off we set on the trail around the north side of Mirror Lake on pathways made out of timber for a nice even walk.