Archive for February, 2014

Bigfoot Bounty

he_who_is_nobody
he_who_is_nobody
Mon Feb 17, 2014 7:56 pm by he_who_is_nobody

I just got around to watching the first few episodes of “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty” from SpikeTV. This is another cryptid based TV show, but instead of being another pseudo-documentary about the cryptid, this show is based on the reality TV template. There are nine teams of two, one team is eliminated every episode after competing to see who brings the best evidence in for Bigfoot. The teams also have a smaller challenge during each episode, wherein they compete for advantages going into the main elimination competition.

 

I am just going to start by saying, this show is terrible, and unless you have a huge interest in reality TV shows or Bigfoot, it is not worth watching. However, there are two highlights of the show. The first highlight is Dr. Todd Disotell. Dr. Todd already has a reputation among crypto-zoologists in that he is the one who tests material to see what type of DNA signature it has. Dr. Todd’s no nonsense approach to genetic testing is a breath of fresh air when it comes to this and other cryptid related shows. In “Bigfoot Bounty” the show’s producers gave him a state of the art mobile genetic testing lab. Dr. Todd is able to test the different samples brought in by the contestants in a matter of hours. I feel this testing lab is the best thing to come out of this show.

 

The second highlight of this show is Natalia Reagan. Natalia is a field biologist and her job is to teach the contestants how to act like actual field biologists. Natalia is always instructing the contestants on how to take proper field notes and collect proper field samples. As an actual field scientist myself, I can greatly appreciate the fact that Natalia is teaching crypto-zoologists the basics when it comes to fieldwork. There are many tedious notes to be taken long before anything can be sampled in a lab. Natalia and Dr. Todd make a good point in informing the contestants that none of the samples will be tested unless they follow the proper procedures when it comes to collecting their samples.

 

Another aspect of the show that I find funny is just how out of shape the contestants are. All but one team are either actual hunters or active Bigfoot researchers. However, one would not be able to tell that they spent anytime out in the field with just how out of breath they are on a simple hike. Beyond that, the way most of the contestants act when they are in the woods (they jump at any noise and think it is a Bigfoot) is highly suspicious to someone that has spent any amount of time hiking and camping. It appears to me that none of them has any basic outdoors experience. If it were not for Natalia teaching them what to do while in the field, they would just be running around scaring the hell out of each other. However, in the end Dr. Todd and Natalia cannot save this show. It is just another run of the mill reality TV show with standard made up drama between the contestants and added dramatic tension before each commercial break. In my opinion, this show is best left unwatched and forgotten. I do like Dr. Todd and Natalia’s attempt to bring some science into this show, but their efforts alone cannot save it. I hope that Dr. Todd and Natalia will end up with their own TV show one day; I would watch it. In addition, the mobile lab that Dr. Todd now has may lead to some awesome real biological discoveries.

Global Warming – Is there a solution?

Inferno
Inferno
Mon Feb 17, 2014 1:52 pm by Inferno

I spend way too much on my newspaper. 200€ a year, just to get a weekly paper. Granted, it’s about 10m² just on one page and it’s as thick as your average Bible, but still… For those of you who don’t know it, I’m talking about the German newspaper “Zeit”. It really is excellent, I just don’t have the time to read it every week. Not even close. So mostly, I just pluck out the articles that really interest me and go through those.

I won’t bore you with the article in “Zeit”, instead I’ll link to the article it references:

Rollin Stones: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Short version: We’re pumping out much more CO² than we should. In fact, if we keep going at this rate then we’ll reach the red line (about 565 Gigatons until 2050, counting from today) in just over 18 years. (Today’s output ~31Gt/y, and 565/31=18.2) The problem: We’ve got about 2700Gt of CO² sleeping under ground in the form of coal, gas and oil.

So what are our choices? Depending on which side you listen to, there’s different solutions and different non-solutions. If you listen to the deniers then obviously there’s no need for a solution, the greens (note: NO capital G) say that solar/wind/bio-fuel and cutting carbon emissions (either through fuel economy or reducing the economy) are solutions but that nuclear power is a big no-no. The nuclear industry says that nuclear energy is the only solution.

If you’re reading this, you’re interested in what I think and say. Only to thrash it in the comments.

I will try to base my arguments on as much science as I can, though I warn you up-front: Not all here is hard science, some of it is soft science aka. humanities. In those cases, I present arguments and hope that they’re good enough.

A paper in 2004 (Pacala and Socolow, 2004) offers 15 solutions. (page 3 in the PDF, page 970 on paper) They can be categorized into two (or three) sections:

1) Improve efficiency

2) Use renewable energy sources or those of low CO² output

2.1) Use carbon sinks for fossil fuels

All of these 15 solutions are good and I can think of a few others, though they would be costly and possibly not as effective. So let’s focus on these 15. We’ll agree that 1 and 2.1 are all good, skip forestry (I’m very happy to see that on the list and it’s something that will take a lot of effort, sadly) and we’ll move to #2. Here we have five possible solutions: Biofuels, Photovoltaic, Hydrogen, Wind and Nuclear. I’ll try to very briefly deal with all of them, but I will completely skip Hydrogen because I know exactly nothing about its use as a fuel. If anyone could enlighten me in the comments, that would be much appreciated. It’s also noteworthy that both Hydro-electric power and tidal power have been skipped. The solution: There’s just so damn few of them, they make no global impact whatsoever. (Combined, they could potentially make up 1/4th of the power needed today, but that’s potential (i.e. sometimes not accessible and/or in natural reserves) and there’s huge costs involved.)

Potential energy available

So let’s quickly look at those four remaining sources of fuel. I’ll start with Wind.

There are two ways of harnessing the power of the wind: Offshore wind farms and Onshore wind farms. Theoretically, wind power could give us more than enough energy. (see graphic 1) For the following figures, I will rely on this 2010 UK report as shown over at Wikipedia.
We can easily see that there is a huge difference in cost between onshore and offshore wind power: Offshore costs nearly twice as much. That’s also the reason why many companies are reducing their offshore wind power spending and are focusing on other means. For example, to achieve Britain’s goal of 15GW, this article suggests that you’ll need about 60$ billion. I don’t have that kind of money and neither do they, it seems.
The second way, onshore wind power, suffers problems of its own. Turbines don’t look good, they kill birds (though not nearly as many as people might want you to think), they’re unsafe… None of these are real problems, so we’ll skip those and get onto real ones. For this, I have absolutely no concrete number and must rely on what I was told by a high-ranking member in the Austrian ministry for agriculture. (includes renewable energy) If his numbers are correct, then onshore wind installations are pretty much used up. Austria produces about 1400MW from Wind Energy, or about 4% of our national consumption. Most countries produce between 1-7% of their energy from wind energy, in fact the EU average is 7%. Only countries with access to the ocean or with huge parts of unused land produce more than that. If I am to trust said person above, the EU average can rise to 10%, maybe 12%. It’s doubtful if more can be produced, simply because the turbines take so much space.
In short, Wind power can only do so much to curb carbon emissions. We must look further.
Having dismissed wind power as a viable alternative, we move on to biofuels. Contrary to common belief, not all of biofuels are generated by sugar cane or maize. This pop-sci article discusses the worth of forestry-related biofuels. Other researchers are looking into algae, fungi and other alternative biofuel sources.
Apart from the obvious problems with biofuels, like “food vs. fuel”, soil erosion, deforestation, impact on water, etc., there’s another huge problem: ERO(E)I or Energy Return On (Energy) Investment. Basically it means that you put in X amounts of energy and you get Y back. If Y>X, then you have a net gain. An EROEI of 1 means that you just break even: You get back what you put in, so there’s no gain. An EROEI of anything lower than 1 means you lose energy. Fusion, to take but one example, has an EROEI lower than 1.
OK, I see what you’re getting at. What’s the EROEI of bio-fuels? Murphy and Hall (2010) calculated three different EROEI’s:
1) Biodiesel with 1.3
2) Corn-based Ethanol with 0.8-1.6
3) Ethanol (Sugarcane) with 0.8-10
Most biofuels are simply too inefficient to make a big impact. We’d have to use vast swathes of land to achieve this. As Pacala and Socolow (2004) state:

Option 13: Biofuels. Fossil-carbon fuels can also be replaced by biofuels such as ethanol. A wedge of biofuel would be achieved by the production of about 34 million barrels per day of ethanol in 2054 that could displace gasoline, provided the ethanol itself were fossil-carbon free. This ethanol production rate would be about 50 times larger than today’s global pro- duction rate, almost all of which can be attrib- uted to Brazilian sugarcane and United States corn. An ethanol wedge would require 250 million hectares committed to high-yield (15 dry tons/hectare) plantations by 2054, an area equal to about one-sixth of the world’s crop- land. An even larger area would be required to the extent that the biofuels require fossil-carbon inputs. Because land suitable for annually harvested biofuels crops is also often suitable for conventional agriculture, biofuels production could compromise agricultural productivity.

Now I suggest, and you may or may not agree with that assessment, that this is simply unacceptable. We can not, nor should we, use biofuels to replace fossil-carbon fuels. Our greatest hope lies in electric motors. Biofuels can substitute a small sliver of current use, but if I were to make decisions I’d ban them outright.

This leaves us with the photovoltaic and nuclear options. To achieve 1/15th of today’s energy consumption, we’d need an area the size of Israel. (2mio ha = 20,000km² ~Israel or Slovenia) This wouldn’t be a problem if we could just plant them wherever we want, but we have to factor in watts per m² (Graphic 2), distance to destination, etc.

Watts per m²

There is the added problem that photovoltaic costs quite a bit (see UK 2010) and again uses up large tracts of land. However, some people suggest it could make up 3-4 wedges (of 14-16 wedges needed) in this battle. I’m not so optimistic, at least not with the current state of technology. I’m all for using photovoltaic, don’t get me wrong. We’ve got some panels installed ourselves, as much as we could fit on the roof. However, they’re still not at a point where they’re effective enough to really take over. Currently, the most effective (and expensive?) cells have an efficiency of 44%. The average is far below that.
My conclusion: Solar power is by far the most promising of the above four mentioned, but we shouldn’t slack off on innovating them.

Last but not least, I want to turn  to nuclear power. I have previously already talked about how nuclear power is actually an incredibly safe alternative, the problem is just that people don’t know about that. I won’t go into that here. The above mentioned UK estimate (2010) calculates nuclear cost as being lower than tidal, offshore wind and solar power, and as being in the vicinity of other forms of energy. (onshore, coal, gas, biomass, etc.) By “in the vicinity” I mean that they overlap a huge amount, because of course there is some error margin. Nuclear’s EROEI is, depending on what kind of reactor you run, either lower than wind’s (10 vs 18) or much higher than wind (50 vs 18), but no matter what it’s far higher than either biofuels or photovoltaic (1.3 and 6.8 respectively).
There is then, only one real problem: Nuclear energy is a good way of battling CO² output, but on its own it’s not sufficient.

Nuclear alone may just not suffice

I will reserve a political discussion of these issues for a later time. I hope that I’ve made a few points clear:

  • Some suggested solutions (biofuels, wind) may just be far less viable than advertised. These “solutions” should be avoided if at all possible or at least only implemented to a certain degree.
  • Other solutions are difficult to talk about due to a lack of information (wind) or due to public opposition (nuclear), though that wasn’t mentioned now.
  • Various solutions are needed to solve this problem. No one solution can fix this problem on its own. (Well, returning to our hunter/gatherer days might…) Greens are harming the cause (of reducing CO²) by not allowing nuclear energy to be part of the solution.
  • I personally would go further and postulate that avoiding the oncoming crisis is ONLY possible if we use nuclear energy. I’d suggest going for 3-4 wedges instead of the 1 wedge suggested, if only to have a safety net. As soon as solar energy comes to the point where it can actively take over, we can turn off the reactors and lean back in contentment. But until then, nuclear energy is a vital part of the solution.

Non-violent communication

Aught3
Aught3
Sun Feb 09, 2014 12:43 am by Aught3

Non-violent communication (NVC) is based on the acknowledgement that there are some people who like committing violence while there are others who enjoy contributing to well being through compassionate giving. Many of the structures in our societies contribute to the violent aspect by educating people to be obedient and submissive to authority. In the same way that our culture foists a life philosophy of enlightened hedonism onto us, it also sets us up in domination structures where superiors are expected to tell others what’s best for them and inferiors are simply supposed to obey. The goal of NVC is liberation from decades of cultural education steeped in domination structures and replace it with compassionate systems of communication, thinking, and influencing.

Part of the education problem is the widespread use of a “static” language that focuses on what people are rather than how they are feeling. They, their behaviour, or their appearance are constantly judged as good or bad, right or wrong, normal or abnormal. Our approach of retributive justice also plays a role. When someone is judged as “bad” by the authorities we come to believe they now deserve to receive punishment. All that it takes to make violence enjoyable is to believe there are bad people and they need to be punished. This approach to justice goes to the heart of violence on the planet. Finally, there is danger in a language that denies choice. Words like “ought”, “must”, and “have to” are commonplace but they deny individual responsibility and lead us to be slaves of authority. We may not like all the things we do but it is important to recognise that we don’t so anything that we don’t choose to. NVC is a system primary of communication but also of thinking and influence which helps us to overcome the domination structures which lead to excess violence.

If the alternative to domination and violence is compassion and giving then the question NVC answers is “what skills are needed to live compassionately?” It is about how we ensure that what ever we do is done willingly and comes solely out of the joy that comes from giving. In order to do this, NVC puts the focus back on human needs. If human needs are unfulfilled we take action. Once the needs are fulfilled we can celebrate. The basis of this process is to figure out “what is alive in us” and “what would make life more wonderful” How to go about communicating the answers to these questions to others is the process of NVC. 

 

The Process
1. Observe without judgement
The process of NVC begins with clear observations that are delivered without judgement. Clear observations tell other people whether or not they are fulfilling our needs. However, judgement and evaluation, especially when it is received as negative, often provokes defensiveness and shuts down the possibility of listening in the other person. Observations, on the other hand, are objective and can be agreed upon by both parties without the presence of guilt or blame. Blame and criticism make it difficult for others to enjoy contributing to our well-being which is the whole point of NVC. If done successfully, this initial agreement over the facts of the situation is a great way to begin a productive conversation.

2. Feel and empathise
Both positive and negative feelings are a manifestation of fulfilled (positive) or unfulfilled (negative) needs. NVC is all about putting people in touch with feelings, either their own or others. After making observations, the next step is to attach a feeling to those facts. Again it’s important to stick to only naming feeling in this step and not move into judgement or evaluation. Saying “I feel disappointed” is the right type of response. Saying “I feel you aren’t trying to the best of your ability” is making a judgement while masking it with the language of ‘feeling’.  In this stage empathy is very important. You may need to check with the other person that they really heard and understood your feeling and are empathising correctly.

3. Communicate the need
Needs have a specific meaning in NVC. They are broad categories of shared desires present in all people. Some examples of these types of needs are respect, self-determination, companionship, etc. The idea here is to link the need with a feeling from the previous stage, again no judgement should be taking place. “I’m feeling scared because my need for safety isn’t being met” or “I’m disappointed that my need for honesty isn’t being met” are good instances of this. The need should be communicated in a clear and open way to reduce the chance that it is misinterpreted. Again, checking that the other person heard you by having them repeat back your need is a useful way to confirm communication is taking place correctly.

4. Make a request
The last step is to make a request of the other person that would help you to get your need met. Because this is a request and not a demand we have to be open to the other person proposing a less-than-ideal alternative or even saying “no”. If the other person hears a demand, it makes it difficult for them to enjoy contributing to us, and they may comply out of shame and guilt. This is not the way we want other people to help us! This is why, in NVC, we only request and never demand. Requests made between two freely-acting individuals in order to fulfill each other’s needs is the entire goal of NVC. If the other person doesn’t agree to your request, that’s okay! You can use NVC to find out what feeling or need is holding them back and propose an alternative that gets both your needs met or you can simply accept their choice not to fulfill your need today. In NVC, each person is responsible for finding ways to get their own needs fulfilled and not responsible for trying to fulfill the needs of others.

 

Although it has been around for decades, NVC is a system of communication that I came across only recently. I think the idea is pretty powerful and putting it into practice, although difficult, has been extremely rewarding for me so far. It’s hard to believe I wasn’t introduced to NVC sooner and I hope introducing it to you will improve your relationships with those around you and make your own life better too. I think NVC is especially useful for people in imbalanced power dynamics (e.g., teachers, parents, and managers should definitely pay attention) but it is still a great system for use in any type of relationship.

Know Your Bones: February 2014

he_who_is_nobody
he_who_is_nobody
Sun Feb 02, 2014 7:12 pm by he_who_is_nobody

Last month, I tried to throw a hard ball your way, because the month before was so easy. However, Isotelus easily identified this critter within a day of the blog being posted.

 

I love me some Aetosaurs! My guess: Originally Desmatosuchus haplocerus, now thought to be D. smalli.

 

Isotelus is correct, this specimen is an Aetosaur called Desmatosuchus. Whether this is D. haplocerus or D. smalli is unknown to me (way to make me look bad Isotelus).

 

(Taken at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

Desmatosuchus lived 201 – 252 million years ago, during the late Triassic. As one can see from the skeleton, Desmatosuchus, as well as all Aetosaurs were armored creatures. The armored plates found on the back were most likely used as defense against larger predators that existed during the late Triassic. Something that might be less obvious is that Desmatosuchus, like all Aetosaurs, were most likely vegetarians. Another thing that is also not immediately obvious is that the closest living relative to Aetosaurs are crocodilians.

 

(Taken at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

This means that not only is Desmatosuchus a member of the diapsid clade, but also a member of the archosaur clade. This clade includes everything you see in the image above. Aetosaurs make up an early example of armored archosaurs, something archosaurs will do again in the centuries to come.

 

Moving on to this months challenge:

 

(Taken at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science)

Good luck to everyone. I also want to say that I like the fact that people are posting their answers as hidden.

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