Sunday, 21 September 2014

Do you see what I see?

One of the Cairns Post photographers was sent out to get a photo of our treasurer, Joe Hockey, on his visit to Cairns. As any photographer would, I have to assume a fairly large number of photos were taken and then the editor picked out one to use. On Friday's editorial page, the selected photo appeared. When I saw it I immediately laughed. Do you see what I see?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Leunig nails it

Tony Abbott announced his intention to send Australian troops to Iraq to play a role in the campaign against the Islamic State, and made a comment that struck me as a little ironic:
''This death cult is uniquely evil in that it does not simply do evil, it exalts in evil,'' Mr Abbott said. ''This death cult has ambitions way beyond those of any previous terrorist group.''
Leunig had the same reaction I did:

Friday, 12 September 2014

Sam Harris: Sleepwalking toward Armageddon

Sam Harris's piece on Obama's attempt to portray the Islamic State as un-Islamic is essential reading. Among many passages I could choose as a highlight, he writes:
As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder? It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”
Go read

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A video update to an old post: clever fish

In April last year I noted some research on interspecies cooperative hunting between coral trout and moray eels:
A study led by Alexander Vail, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge's Department of Zoology, found that groupers and coral trout perform a pointing signal to indicate the location of hidden prey to cooperative hunting partners including moray eels, octopuses and Napoleon wrasses. 
Most days I drop in to Underwater Times, an aggregator of fish-related news. Today the first article listed was Watch: Fish And Eels Team Up To Catch Prey--Rare Among Animals; 'Let's Go Hunting', linking to a National Geographic article with this video showing the behaviour:


Sunday, 7 September 2014


I've long thought about getting myself a peacock mantis shrimp, but have held off in part due to the high price that results from demand from both hobbyists like myself and from researchers at James Cook University. Here's Cairns's own Jamie Seymour, better known for his box jellyfish research, and an associate playing with some mantis shrimps and a high speed camera:

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