Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

After hiking Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert almost every year right after New Years, and skipping 2015 and 2016, today I went again on Jan 1, 2017.

Starting out, on January 3, 2010, I noticed a brand new stand of palm trees developing. I took a picture and marked the spot (click to enlarge):

New Palm Grove 2010

When I came back two years later on January 7, 2012, here is the identical view:

New Palm Grove 2012

Then I came back on March 10, 2013. This is what it looked like:

Final 03-10-2013

New Palm Grove 2013

After massive floods in 2013, this is what it looked like on January 1, 2014. I hardly recognized it.

Final 01-01-2014 with annotations

New Palm Grove 2014

The trees that were formerly where I placed the blue and green arrows are completely gone. The water pulled them out completely and washed them away. There is not a trace of them left. The center grove is still there, but it has hardly grown since last year, and it is severely bent at the root, obviously from the rush of the creek downstream.

Here is the picture I took today:


New Palm Grove Jan 1, 2017

Of course, I had to take the obligatory selfie in front of the famous oasis, the destination of the hike.


And, as usual, there were some bighorn sheep very near. I even got some short videos of them.


They completely blend into the environment and are very hard to see. You can only see them because they move. I saw an entire herd of about a dozen of them on the hillside; they were so camouflaged, I almost walked right by them.

It made my day. Wild bighorn sheep.

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The Religious Argument

I have been fortunate that I was able to cast off the shackles and blinders of religion very early in life. I am not religious or spiritual in any way. I have always called myself a non-combative atheist, and I am convinced that mindset has served me well.

According to Wikipedia:

The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of American had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.

So being part of only 3% of solid atheists mean that 29 out of 30 of my friends, associates and people I run into on a daily basis are more or much more religious than I.

As a result, I have a lot of religious friends. Some very old, good friends. I have friends who are pastors, youth pastors, and even a Catholic priest. In serious late-night discussions with religious friends, one of the most common points that eventually comes up is:

What if you are wrong?

They argue that their belief in a God protects them from eternal hellfire. While I, who does not have such an insurance policy, am exposed. Let’s say with both die. If there is a God, the priest presumably goes to heaven. If there isn’t, he’s just dead and nothing mattered anyway. But on the off-chance that there is a God, he has an insurance policy. He is covered.

But I don’t have that coverage. If there is a God, he says I’ll go to eternal hell. If there is no God, I’ll be just as dead and nothing mattered anyway.

I know that is why many religious people hang on to religion. Just in case.

The Climate Change Argument

The American public has been led to believe that “climate change is a hoax.” Our populace has just elected a government that officially, and in all levels of the executive and legislative branches, supports this argument.

The vast majority of all climate scientists in the world disagree with this reasoning. Our CO2 levels at 400 PPM in the Antarctic are now higher than they have been in 4 million years. In a hundred and fifty years of burning coal and oil we have created a hockey stick of CO2 levels in the atmosphere in the blink of an eye from a planet’s perspective. But this argument I am making here is not about the science. I’ll leave that to the thousands of scientist much better qualified than I am. I just need to state that I am utterly convinced that we’re seriously messing with the balances of chemistry in our atmosphere, and we will need to pay a dear price for that in the not too distant future.

Our illustrious American politicians tell us that it’s all a hoax. Never mind that we are the largest polluters in the world as a country. Never mind that the second and third largest polluters, China and India respectively, basically agree with the seriousness of climate change. Never mind that China is now cleaning up their act as rapidly as they can (which requires another post eventually to discuss). Never mind that 195 nations all came together and agreed that this is a serious problem and crafted the Paris climate agreement.

Our government, empowered by the electorate, is now preparing to get out of the Paris climate agreement. Trump’s position is: We’re not allowing UN bureaucrats to have the power to spend American tax dollars. By itself, that argument makes sense. UN bureaucrats should not get to spend American tax dollars. However, the consequences of just tearing up the agreement are severe.

What if they are wrong?

Say for the sake of argument that climate change really were a hoax. These CO2 levels of 400 and more in our air are just a natural spike, and humanity has nothing to do with it, and can do nothing to change it. The weather will change whether we like it or not.

In a hundred years, no matter what we do, we’ll still be here, with our Manhattan real estate, with our Miami beaches, happily ever after.

Then it will not have mattered.

But on the other side, if human activity actually does affect the climate adversely, and the hockey stick graphs are going to get worse, we will have serious consequences to deal with as a species. The human food chain in the oceans will be disrupted. Agriculture will be severely hindered. Real estate will disappear and many of the lowlands around the country will be under water.

Seriously, we’re willing to play this game – for MONEY?

Ignoring climate change now is like killing the last rooster and chicken, who have been laying eggs for us every day, so we can have ONE LUNCH.

We’re risking our children’s welfare and taking away their right to the pursuit of happiness so we can burn some more oil and coal, so some people can have jobs? Seriously?

What if we are wrong?


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When I was in the service, I once saw a demonstration of a tank speeding across a bumpy field at 30 miles an hour, jumping up and down, while the barrel of the gun was continuously pointed straight at a target. Very frightening.

This raptor clearly has that same ability. No matter what the body does, the eyes are focused.

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Today during a walk it occurred to me that the word for butterfly is seemingly beautiful in all the languages, at least the ones I know:

  • Butterfly – English
  • Papillon – French
  • Schmetterling – German
  • Mariposa – Spanish
  • Papillio – Latin
  • Kamehameha – Hawaiian
  • 蝶 – Japanese (pronounced CHO)

How cool are those words?

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Inspired by a photograph Trisha brought back from her Safari in Botswana in 2014.

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This happened in Tehachapi last Thursday.


Click here for more images.

Click here for the original poster’s comments on Reddit.

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Yesterday I had a brilliant, clear view of Yosemite Valley from the plane:

Yosemite from Plane 3

Yosemite Valley [click to enlarge]

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Stop picturing little green men in your mind whenever you talk about aliens because, according to Simon Conway Morris, a leading evolutionary biologist from the University of Cambridge, if aliens exist or we ever encountered them, they would look a lot like humans.

— Sparkonit (from the book The Runes of Evolution)

It has always bothered me that aliens in popular culture media more often than not are humanoid. This never made sense to me. Simon Conway Morris argues that similar conditions would result in a similar fauna on an alien planet, so the alpha predator that would eventually emerge and become sentient would be humanoid.

65 million years ago the Chicxulub asteroid effectively wiped out a majority of the fauna on earth. In particular, the entire dinosaur population did not survive. Scientists speculate that at that time dinosaurs like velociraptors may have been hunting in packs and coordinating their actions. Let’s assume for a minute that the asteroid didn’t hit the earth that day and missed it, and another one didn’t come in the next 65 million years, a quite possible scenario.

Velociraptors would have had millions of years to further hone their hunting skills. Perhaps they might have learned to use tools, first sticks of wood, sharpened at the end, as primitive daggers and later spears. It’s easy to imagine that they would have developed sufficient intelligence to make tools. After all, they had claws with opposable thumbs.

Mammals would never have dominated the earth, and primates may never have evolved superior intelligence. In that world, there would now be the descendants of those tool-making velociraptors as the alpha predators. Sorry, they would look lizard-like, not humanoid.

So, changing one minor detail about our planet’s history by diverting a chance asteroid encounter, a pivotal series of events would not have happened, and the likelihood of humanoid aliens would be minimized.



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I was at the market shopping for a steamed vegetable meal. I bought potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash, a couple of red onions and some red cabbage. Boring. The same old fare. I wished we could invent another vegetable, something exotic and new. Then I brushed away the thought. Nature only gave us these. It does not make any more.

When I got home, I researched vegetables, and there was a massive surprise in store for me.

In Southern California, wild mustard (Brassica) is a highly successful weed. In grows in all types of soils in  the spring, it does not need much water. The leaves on the bottom are meaty and dark green, a little hard. The stems get very tall, chest-high in some cases, and are sprinkled with yellow flowers.

Wild Mustard 1

Wild Mustard – Image Credit: Michigan State University

The mustard plant was well-established during Roman and Hellenistic times and it was cultivated in Europe and Asia, particularly on the slopes of the Himalayas. Lore has it that it was introduced to the Americas by the conquistadors and missionaries. Supposedly they planted the fast sprouting seeds to mark their trails. It created a yellow (brick) road along the routes they traveled. Now, a century or more later, in the spring and early summer, the California hills are covered with a yellow sheen of wild mustard. The yellow brick road has become a wall-to-wall carpet.

In America, it is considered an invasive weed in many areas. Each plant can produce thousands of seeds, so in areas where it encroaches on agricultural crops, it is considered a pest. It sure was when I had a large yard. There were mountains of the weed when I was done pulling them.

To my utter surprise, I just found out that wild mustard is the base plant from which many of our vegetables are derived by artificial selective breeding.

Wild Mustard

Many of the vegetables I bought at the market come from wild mustard, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. Others derived from wild mustard are kohlrabi, turnips and kale. Finally, mustard seed (duh) and rapeseed come from the wild mustard plant.

Let’s develop a new vegetable, shall we? I know what plant to start with.


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Dinosaurs are Alive

Looking at this picture of a baby Blue Heron illustrates for me that birds are closely related to and descendants of dinosaurs.

Baby Blue Heron

[picture credit: imgur]


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[Photocredit: NASA]

This picture shows the tiny Saturn moon Epimetheus (116 km) and giant Titan (5,150 km) together with the A and F rings of Saturn.

I remember when I was about ten years old, I had a book about the solar system, and one section was dedicated to the planet Saturn. At that time we only knew about eight or nine moons circling Saturn, and any photos of the planet were grainy and dull. Yet, they were all we had.

Today, the Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around Saturn, constantly sending back dramatic photos of various moons and sections of the rings in high-resolution. We have eyes right inside the Saturnian system and we can see its wonders from a close-up vantage point.

When the ten-year-old me thought about the moons of Saturn, he never expected to see them like this – ever.

What a fascinating age we live in!


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Lunar Eclipse

Last night we set the alarm to 3:30am and were up until 5. Here is the lunar eclipse from our balcony.

Lunar Eclipse

Awesome Photo by Trisha


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The Crazy World of Birds

Birds are dinosaurs. Imagine a naked chicken and make it 20 times bigger, and you have a velociraptor. Make it 50 times bigger, and you have a T.Rex. Now we know what dinosaur would have tasted like: Chicken. If only we had been around then.

Here is a wonderful article about dinosaurs, birds and the wild and crazy variety of the bird world. I couldn’t stop scrolling.

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World Without Us

Imagine all the people in the world disappeared today. Gone. I recognize this is a hypothetical scenario, one that has a low likelihood of happening, but — it could happen. An Ebola-like plague could sweep the world and eradicate the human race in a matter of a few weeks. There have been doomsday books, like Stephen King’s The Stand that were based on just that premise. My favorite book about this subject is Earth Abides by George Stewart. Both novels start out with just about all people dead, and one single survivor eventually finding another one, starting the long process of building a new world from scratch and from the ruins of the old world.

The World Without Us is not a novel. It is a speculative work taking on many of the controversies of our society, including overpopulation, climate change and runaway pollution. Every chapter explores, from its own viewpoint, what it would be like if humans simply were no longer here.

Here is an example. What would happen in New York City if humans disappeared. Surprisingly, the city would come to pieces very quickly, must faster than other places out west.

Schuber peers down into a square pit beneath the Van Siclen Avenue station in Brooklyn, where each minute 650 gallons of natural groundwater gush from the bedrock. Gesturing over the roaring cascade, he indicates four submersible cast-iron pumps that take turns laboring against gravity to stay ahead. Such pumps run on electricity. When the power fails, things can get difficult very fast. Following the World Trade Center attack, an emergency pump train bearing a jumbo portable diesel generator pumped out 27 times the volume of Shea Stadium. Had the Hudson River actually burst through the PATH train tunnels that connect New York’s subways to New Jersey, as was greatly feared, the pump train— and possibly much of the city— would simply have been overwhelmed.

Weisman, Alan (2007-07-10). The World Without Us (p. 25). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

650 gallons of natural groundwater run into that one subway station every minute, and pumps must keep running 24 hours a day to keep it try. When the power runs out (and that’s another chapter), in a half hour the water would be high enough to flood the tracks and trains could no longer pass. In 36 hours the entire subways system would fill up. Weisman goes on:

Even if it weren’t raining, with subway pumps stilled, that would take no more than a couple of days, they estimate. At that point, water would start sluicing away soil under the pavement. Before long, streets start to crater. With no one unclogging sewers, some new watercourses form on the surface. Others appear suddenly as waterlogged subway ceilings collapse. Within 20 years, the water-soaked steel columns that support the street above the East Side’s 4, 5, and 6 trains corrode and buckle. As Lexington Avenue caves in, it becomes a river.

Weisman, Alan (2007-07-10). The World Without Us (pp. 25-26). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.

This is just about one of our great cities.

There are 441 operating nuclear power plants in the world. Without the regulating eye of humans, many of these plants would go through some form of catastrophic failure and eventual meltdown. Imagine 441 Chernobyls around the world. Check out this map and find how close you live to one? Hey Australia! Safest place on Earth in case of a meltdown.


Source: International Nuclear Safety Center at Argonne National Laboratory.

This map is from 2005, I could not find a newer one, but given how long it takes to build such a plant, and considering that they are not building many more, it’s pretty close.

The World Without Us was published in 2007. Given today’s pace of development, and pollution in China (check out this link and be shocked), and runaway fossil-fuel-burning, things are much worse than described by Weisman in 2007, when there were only 6.5 billion people on the planet, rather than seven.

We’re adding one million people to the planet every four days.

The World Without Us reads like a fast-paced thriller, where the bad guys are out the make the world go away. As I read the book, I realized that I was in it, and it wasn’t a thriller, it wasn’t a novel, it was a giant reality show, and my life, and the life of my children, and their children, was on the line.

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave
Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you boy

— Barry McGuire, Eve of Destruction

Choose not to read this book at your own peril.

Rating - Four Stars

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