Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Cooktown

Cooktown from Grassy Hill

Monday, 25 August 2014

Bob's Lookout

My father at Bob's Lookout on the Mulligan Highway
I think my father figured out what I previously couldn't - why Bob's Lookout has the odd feel that it does. The trees in the dry valley are smaller and more stunted than you think. It gives an illusion of beinng higher than you actually are.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A lack of shade from the miracle leaf

Beach almonds (Terminalia cattapa) overhanging Trinity Beach
After breakfast at Fratelli's this morning, I grabbed a takeaway coffee and crashed on the beach for a bit. I leant back against a beach almond (Terminalia cattapa) and read a book. I noticed that the beach almond I was leaning against was starting its new spring growth, with many small green leaves. I could only see two red leaves yet to drop. The tree just to my right had a great many more red leaves yet to drop, and only a few new leaves appearing. A great many dead leaves littered the sand under the two trees.

Beach almond leaves are used by aquarium owners in tanks holding soft water fish - discus for example - to soften the water, add tannins, and reduce fungal growth. They sell, sometimes labelled "Miracle Leaf" for about 50 cents a leaf. How much is the patch of sand at the right of this photo worth? They're of little use in my tanks, which are hard or neutral water, but I sometimes wonder if I should be collecting them and selling them on Ebay.

Double-barred finch

Double-barred finch (Taeniopygia bichenovii)
During a lunchtime visit to the Mareeba Wetlands (the mango and macadamia chicken filo pastry is rcommended), some double-barred finches were in the bushes next to the cafe/information centre. I think it's the first time I have seen the species.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The salmon cannon

The Verge reports:
Salmon are amazing fish. They’ll swim hundreds of miles against the current, hurl themselves up waterfalls, and risk being eaten by bears as they return to their birthplace to spawn. But some obstacles are too much, and that’s where Whooshh Innovations comes in. Behold, the salmon cannon. Seriously, watch this video of fish getting launched out of pneumatic tubes:
Whooshh Innovations ("Whoosh" was already taken) first designed its tubes to transport fruit, but as Washington state debated what do about hydroelectric dams and the salmon whose migrations they blocked, the company saw its technology might have another purpose. If Whooshh tubes could send apples flying over long distances without damaging them, maybe, an employee thought, they could suck fish up and over the dams blocking the Columbia river.
Read on at the Verge. I think I would rather like one connecting aquariums in different rooms of my apartment so my fish can follow me around.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Our Prime Minister lives bubble of denial

At the Guardian, Lenore Taylor writes:
In the final sitting weeks of the winter session, Tony Abbott held an unusual meeting of his full ministry during which he was asked by a junior minister how the government was intending to deal with the widespread view that it had broken election promises. The prime minister’s response was forceful and absolute. The government had not broken a single promise, he insisted. There was nothing to deal with, no case to answer.

The meeting was obviously before this week’s broken promise about changes to racial discrimination laws, but well and truly after the government had, in the view of most people outside the cabinet room and at least some in it, broken a raft of other election promises on tax, health, education and pensions.
Keep reading at the Guardian.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Growing understanding of Antarctic sea ice growth

One common climate change denier arguments is to point at Antarctic sea ice's growth as if it proves warming isn't happening. Cairns's "leading" wingnut letter writer, Bill Schutz, is one of a few who has included this in his letters to the Cairns Post. Such authors ignore the Antarctic land ice melt and the effect the water from that melt has on sea ice formation, and also the effects of a change in circumpolar winds. If recent work proves right, another factor emerges. Writing at the Guardian, John Abraham describes new work showing that a change in measurement calibration is another cause of the apparent increase:
There has been a lot of attention on ice at the southern pole of the Earth. To be clear, the Earth’s climate is changing and the Earth is getting warmer. This means that the oceans are warming, the atmosphere is warming, sea levels are rising, and ice is melting. In fact, the Earth’s ice is melting almost everywhere. In the Arctic, sea ice is in a long-term retreat, the Greenland ice sheet is melting, so is the Antarctic ice sheet as are the world’s glaciers. But, there is a perplexing anomaly. The sea ice (ice floating on water) that surrounds the Antarctic appears to be growing. Scientists want to know why.

There are many hypotheses, and my colleague Dana Nuccitelli has written about this recently, but here I add a few emerging points. For instance, we know that there is an enormous amount of ice atop the Antarctic ice sheet that is melting each year. Since ice is much fresher than sea water (less salty), the resulting freshwater is creating a fresher zone of water surrounding the continent. The presence of fresh water affects how easily ice can form.

Another view has looked at the quality of the measurements themselves. Could some of the increase be a spurious trend in the measurements themselves? This view was investigated in a very recent publication by Ian Eisenman and colleagues. What the authors found was that a change in sensor calibration caused a shift that has been interpreted as ice acceleration. In the abstract, the authors state,
Specifically we find that a change in the intercalibration across a 1991 sensor transition when the data set was reprocessed in 2007 caused a substantial change in the long-term trend. Although our analysis does not definitively identify whether this change introduced an error or removed one, the resulting difference in the trends suggests that a substantial error exists in either the current data set or the version that was used prior to the mid-2000s… furthermore, a number of recent studies have investigated physical mechanisms for the observed expansion of the Antarctic sea ice cover. The results of this analysis raise the possibility that much of this expansion may be a spurious artifact of an error in the processing of satellite observations. 
Read more at the Guardian

Friday, 1 August 2014

How politicians should respond to climate change denier colleagues

US politics is sharply divided on the subject of climate change. The Democratic party, including Barack Obama, is pretty solid on the science and would really like to take action, including putting a price on carbon emissions. They are hamstrung by the Republicans however, so Obama is trying to implement as much change as he can through executive action. Superficially it looks a bit like Tony Abbott's near useless direct action scheme, but will almost certainly spur emissions trading at the state level.

It was just in 2008 when Republican presidential candidate and his idiotic running mate Sarah Palin championed emissions trading, accepting that climate change was real and a problem. The Republicans have since taken a huge leap into denier land, and it's almost unthinkable for a Republican to even admit climate change is real. It's electoral suicide for them with a rabid base eager to label them "Republicans In Name Only" (RINOs) and even communists if they acknowledge mainstream science on the subject. Palin is now a full blown denier, while McCain seems to still accept it while resigning himself to the impossibility of action.

One Republican who has long been steadfast in his denial of reality is Senator James Inhofe, who recently blocked a motion merely acknowledging the reality of climate change and gave a speech which included a number of standard denialist memes, including reference to the Oregon Petition. Following that, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, got up to give Inhofe a lesson. There's little doubt that Inhofe spent the time with his head where it surely still is - the intra-anal position.

Whitehouse's speech addresses a number of arguments that pop up in letters to the editor of the Cairns Post, and also in opinion pieces penned by Andrew Bolt. Here's how politicians should respond to idiots in their midst:

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Was the weather really that bad today?

Admittedly I was in the office all afternoon, but the view out the window didn't look too threatening. I wandered to the bus stop on Abbott St, and glanced at my phone for the time. The weather widget caught my eye:


Saturday looks troubling too.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Cairns "News"... coming to another medium-sized town's newspaper soon

OMG!!! HOLD THE FRONT PAGE!!!
I have a little sympathy for newspaper editors and their need to try to come up with something eye-catching for the front page. Slow news days must be a pain in the proverbial, and result in non-stories getting blown out of proportion.

I wonder if Monday's Cairns Post was the result of a really slow news day until a late breaking story squeezed in. At the bottom we had a story about a serious car accident that resulted in a pedestrian losing a leg, and this was hailed in large letters - DRINK DRIVE HORROR. If it bleeds, it leads. A bit sensationalist, but at least it was news.

Above however was a non-story, IT'S OFFICIAL: WE ARE STILL OUT OF THIS WORLD, which breathlessly announced that the Cairns crater on Mars, so named in 1976, will (* drumroll *) continue to be named the Cairns crater.
CAIRNS’ place in space is safe, no matter how large the city becomes.

The city has a 8.6km wide crater on Mars named after it, an honour NASA reserves for Earthly cities with fewer than 100,000 people.

The honour was bestowed upon Cairns in 1976, when the city’s population was 90,000.
Honour? No, we were just another town whose name got used in a generic nomenclature. We weren't specially selected. Mars may not be that big as far as planets go, but it has a huge number of craters needing names for maps.
With the city’s population now about 150,000 people, and estimated to hit 400,000 by 2050, the town could be in danger of losing its crater.
Really? This front page news is years too late! Why didn't they let us know about this threat when we reached 100,000? Maybe they did and I just didn't notice.

So, does the Cairns Post really think that NASA redraws its maps of Mars with population updates, changing crater names every time a new population estimate gets released anywhere in the world? The story continues, and explains that it isn't a story at all.
But Jennifer Blue, from NASA’s Astrogeology Science Centre said that the Cairns crater would forever keep its name.

“The theme of small-town names was chosen because it supplies an almost endless bank of names for the manycraters on Mars,’’ she said.

“The requirement is that the town’s population must be less than 100,000 at the time the name is proposed and approved. There’s no danger that the name would be rescinded because Cairns’ population is now greater than 100,000.

“One of the goals of planetary nomenclature is to keep the system stable.”
I imagine Jennifer Blue was consulted by phone and spent much of the time face-palming and wondering why she had to talk to such idiots as part of her job. Let's give Daniel Bateman the benefit of the doubt, and assume he wasn't the idiot in question. He probably just dropped Cairns's name into a generic template that does the rounds from one medium-sized town's newspaper to another. Come to think of it, that may not be much benefit to give.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Last Week Tonight: Uganda's LGBTI activist Pepe Julian Onziema

John Oliver discusses US progress towards marriage equality and Uganda's anti-gay laws:



The interview with Pepe Julian Onziema continued:

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Along a lightly beaten track

Enjoying the return of blue skies, I wandered north along the beaches to Palm Cove, and then kept going a little further. If you wander around the rocks at Palm Cove you'll find a small bay. I've only ever wandered round there three times, finding it empty once and the other times finding lone nude sunbathers.


We have had some rather low tides recently, and today Haycock Island really lived up to its Scout's Hat nickname.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The three biggest right wing lies about poverty

Writing about the United States and its Republican Party, Robert Reich identifies The Three Biggest Right Wing Lies About Poverty:
Lie #1: Economic growth reduces poverty
Lie #2: Jobs reduce poverty
Lie #3: Ambition cures poverty
Sound familiar? Much of what he writes applies equally to Australia and our conservatives. Go read.