Monday, November 30, 2009

Ternary diagram software

After spewing my guts out all night in an episode tragically unrelated to alcohol consumption, I spent a sick day in bed or behind the computer trolling through the forgotten corners of the internet. And look what I found! A ternary diagram plotter, which meets most of the specifications I asked for earlier this year. So if anyone else is interested in free 4 component 3-D plotting, check out CSpace. So far it looks pretty nifty to me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dumbest climate education move ever

In the process of looking up information on edGCM, the educational version of NASA's General Circulation Model 2, I found out that they now charge $250 bucks.

What the fuck?

The whole purpose of this project was to provide a transparent, accessible climate simulator, so that people who are wary of trusting their future to voodoo climate models can actually download one, pick apart the code, and see how they work.

Only now, it costs hundreds of bucks to do so.

What kind of moron expects that skeptics who think global warming is all a hoax are going to shell out this kind of money? Or indeed any money at all? Convincing people that it was even worth a mouse click was hard enough, but this is fucking absurd!

In fact, putting it behind a paywall plays right into the hands of the conspiracy theorists, who will point to this as a coverup attempt.

So did Columbia sell the entire project to Marc Morano to cover their budget shortfalls? Or did they simply donate their brains to science (presumably nanotechnology)? With friends like these, who needs denialist shills?

Edit: Also, GCM stands for "General Circulation Model", as the Goddard site attests. Revising the acronym to "Global Climate Model" makes them look like they have no idea what their own product is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

T-day 1 pm


Inside temperature 25C
Outside temperature 31C

T-day high noon


Inside temperature 24C
Outside temperature 29C

T-day 11 am


Forecast temperature 33C
Indside temperature 23C
Outside temperature ~27C

T-day 10 am


Forecast high: 33C
Inside temperature: 22C
Outside temperature: 24C

T-day 9:00 am


Forecast high: 33C
Inside temperature: 22C
Outside temperature: 22C

T-day 8 am


Forecast high: 33C (90F)
Kitchen temperature: 22C (72F)
Outside temperature 19C (66F)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving thinking

Over the past few years, my stuffing recipe has gradually evolved into a stable combination of cornbread crumbs, apples, cranberries, celery, and mushroom, with appropriate herbs. This year, however, we have bumper rhubarb and snowpea crops. I ain’t putting the snowpeas inside the bird, but is there a way to incorporate some rhubarb? Or is it best left in pie or crumble? And isn’t fresh spring produce for T-day weird?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The boy is hot

El Niño generally means hot dry summers here in Southeastern Australia. And while it is not yet officially summer, it sure feels like it. The mean November maximum temperature here in Canberra is 22.7 C (72.9 in Feudal units). So far, for the first half of November the mean maximum has been 29.3 (84.7 F). And the forecast is for low to mid 30’s for the rest of the week. And while the mean monthly rainfall is 64.6 mm, so far we have only had 0.8 mm, although there is a possibility of thunderstorms at the end of the week. I wonder what summer will be like? At the very least, this should be an interesting backdrop to the carbon trading debate currently raging in the air-conditioned halls on the hill.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Stars get lonely too

In the field of exoplanetary detection and characterization, relatively little work has been done on the mental health of the stars in our sector of the galaxy. However, a new paper by Israelian et al. has begun to change that. Their study shows that stars without planetary companions contain as much as ten times as much lithium as the sun.

Lithium, of course, is an antidepressant. Unlike molecular antidepressants like Prozac, it is stable at the temperatures found in the upper layers of luminous stars. Over time, this lithium mixes into the core of the star, where it is destroyed. So the observation that 50% of stars without planets have high levels of lithium suggests that they have been having lithium added via an external source, such as medication.

The obvious conclusion is that these isolated stars have a higher incidence of mental health problems. Lithium is commonly used to treat depression and bipolar disorder, and these diseases may be more common in stars isolated in the vast loneliness of intergalactic space without the companionship of planets. If this hypothesis is correct, then we would expect none of the high-lithium, medicated stars to exhibit variable luminosity associated with bipolar disorders.

Note: I couldn’t find this paper in the arxiv, and Nature only allows access to the abstract by the public. I read that, but I cannot rule out the possibility that I have misinterpreted the research as a result of their access policy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I voted "NO" on the AGU governance changes

I felt the information given was one-sided and very corpoate sleazebaggy, the diagrams in EOS the other month made the new scheme look much more complex, and I'm a contrarian bastard. Also can't type and dress a toddler.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

SHRIMP U-Pb age of zircons from the Jequie complex, Sao Francisco Craton, Bahia Brazil

This abstract describes the age for the igneous precursors to several high-grade metamorphic rocks (enderbites and charnokites. They fall in the 2.67-2.81 GA range that it typical for the Jequie complex of the central Sao Francisco Craton. There is a single trans-Amazonian measurement and a single 3.0 Ga inherited core.

As far as I know, the results have not been published in an English language journal, so there is no research blogging link.

Alibert, C., and Vidal, P., 1992, SHRIMP U-Pb age of zircons from the Jequie complex, Sao Francisco Craton, Bahia Brazil, in Fr., S.G., ed., 14th R. S. T.: Toulouse, p. 4.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Just another word for nothing left to lose?

When I was sixteen years old, I spent half a summer on a foreign exchange program. It was a big deal for me at the time- the first time I spent more than a fortnight away from my folks, the first time left the USA, the first time I drank beer and got tear-gassed. And the first week of that trip involved a rail trip to West Berlin.

It was an overnight train, and when we crossed the DDR border, they stopped the train, pulled us out of our bunks, and checked our passports and visas in the dead of night. The border guards were not friendly men, and when my friend Rahul had an irregularity with his visa, things got a little bit nervewracking. In the end they decided to let him stay on the train, and we spent the next 5 days in the walled city, with an excursion into the East on the final day.

We spent one morning staring into the empty no-man’s –land of Potzdamer Platz, and another afternoon leaving the haunted exhibits of the Reichstag museum, walking down a neglected stretch of the wall, and turning back towards the living part of the city after reaching the barrier in front of the Brandenberg Gate.

While there, we attended a history lesson given by a local college professor. In his closing statement to us, he said, “I don’t know if I will ever see the end of it, but hopefully in your lifetimes the wall will come down.”

Four months later it was gone.

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. In te 20 years since then, it has become easy to take freedom for granted. The idea that people would be imprisoned for pursuing their dreams and aspirations seems barbaric, and the idea that they would be shot for trying to see the rest of the world seems absurd. But 20 years is just an instant- one 200 millionth of the history of the Earth. For most of that time there were no people at all, of course. But the idea that our lives are ours to live as we please is a very recent development even when you only consider the 200,000 years that we have walked this Earth.

Sadly, communism does not appear to be as dead as it seemed to be headed in the early 1990’s. While military parades and red flags have fallen out of favor in most places, many of the fundamental ideas that made the Eastern Bloc so vile have become entrenched in Western culture. The left’s political correctness and the Right’s truthiness are both examples of communist style diktats demanding that the universe conform to a group’s bland paradigm. The brutal treatment of “persons of interest” in the name of security is horrifying. And the slow and steady nibbling of little rights by zoning boards, risk managers, and lazy regulations is depressing.

But today is a day to put all those little things in perspective. To look back on the days of the cold war and celebrate just how far we’ve come towards being a unified pale blue dot for our brief stay here on planet Earth.

NftFC #1: Assembling West Gondwana in the Neoproterozoic: Clues from the São Francisco craton region, Brazil

ResearchBlogging.orgThis paper summarizes the assembly of the various mesoproterozoic blocks into West Gondwanaland. In this model, The SaoFrancisco/Congo craton first collides with the Rio de la Plata craton around 730 MA. This combined Sf-C-RdlP craton then collides with the Amazonia/ W. Africa craton at around 630 MA, sandwiching and deforming the Borborema terrane, and causing internal deformation in the SF-C-PdlP block. The ~Cambrian assembly of West and East Gondwana into Gondwanaland is not discussed.

Since all of these events postdate my rocks of interest by hundreds of millions of years, I read it uncritically for a general overview, rather than for any particular piece of information.

1. Fernando F. Alkmim, 2. Stephen Marshak, & 3. Marco A. Fonseca (2001). Assembling West Gondwana in the Neoproterozoic: Clues from the São Francisco craton region, Brazil Geology, 29 (4), 319-322

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The madness takes control: NftFC introduction

Notes from the filing cabinet: introduction

During my last little stint between jobs, I got a little bit organized. In fact, I sorted through and filed all my papers. Then my computer died, deferring by dream of referential organization.


But I will not be stopped. I've started the long and slow process of feeding all of them into my Zotero, and I thought I would invite all of you along for the ride. I have been a bit slack in the Researchblogging department recently, so here's my big chance.

Many of the papers are things I haven't read for over a decade- or even worse, papers that it feels like I haven't read in over a decade, even if they were published in the 21st century. So I am making some short notes to myself so that I don't have to reread them to know why I thought they were important enough to sneak out of the library at 2 in the morning to Xerox. And I figured, if I'm doing this anyway, why not contaminate the blogosphere with a little bit of science.

Note that these will not be formal outreach-style explanations of the work. Rather, they will be scientist working notes- Why I found it interesting, what the points I got out of it are, what I think is crap. So if any of you normal readers who are brave enough to still be reading here want to see how scientists* think about research, here's your big chance.

The rest of you have better run. Now.

* Well, this scientist. As with all single sample populations, YMMV.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The geologist’s guide to mass spectrometry

Mass spectrometry is important to geology. After all, rocks are made of atoms, and the different geologic processes can leave chemical clues behind that allow analysts to reconstruct a rock’s history. Despite this, the nitty-gritty details of using mass spectrometers and understanding the data they produce are often overlooked by many geologists. There seems to be some sort of false impression in the geological community that mass spectrometry is difficult, and perhaps even a bit dry and technical. While it is certainly technical, it is my intention to dispute the other claims. Mass spectrometry is wet and easy. You just need the correct frame of mind.

The basic principles of mass spectrometry are simple. First, you get some atoms or molecules so excited that they start losing their electrons. Then, before the excitement passes, you run the excited atoms (called “ions”) through an obstacle course of electric fields, magnetic fields, and physical barriers. This obstacle course separates the ions based on a particular attribute which is of interest to the analyst. For mass spectrometry, one of the attributes of interest in generally mass. Finally, you count the ions as they reach the end of the course.

There are lots of different types of mass spectrometers. The basic classifications are based on two factors: The method used for ionizing the molecules or atoms to be analysed is one basis for classification. The type of obstacle course used to separate the ions is another. Stay tuned for examples of different examples and explanations of how they work and what the results they produce actually mean.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009