Learn something new every day – Trees “sleep”

June 14, 2016

In the only reported study to look at tree siestas, researchers set up lasers that measured the movements of two silver birch trees (Betula pendula) at night. One tree was in Finland and the other in Austria, and both were monitored from dusk until morning on dry, windless nights in September. This was close to the solar equinox, when daylight and nighttime are about equal…

The silver birches’ branches and leaves sagged at night; they reached their lowest position a few hours before sunrise, and then perked up again during the wee hours of the morning, the researchers found.

The silver birches’ branches and leaves sagged at night; they reached their lowest position a few hours before sunrise, and then perked up again during the wee hours of the morning, the researchers found.

“Our results show that the whole tree droops during night, which can be seen as position change in leaves and branches,” study lead author Eetu Puttonen, a researcher at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute, said in a statement. “The changes are not too large, only up to 10 centimeters [4 inches] for trees with a height of about 5 meters [16 feet].”

Quoting from Live Science for this one. There’s more in the article.

This reminded me of the walking palm tree articles I’d come across before. There’s debate on the truth of that. A BBC travel report quotes a paleobotanist who claims he’s seen how they do it. It could also just be an illusion based on how the trees grow so many roots outward into the ground and as new ones grow in and others die, it’s going to look like the tree “moved” a little when it hasn’t actually. Whichever is right, tour guides will still say they walk because it impresses the tourists.


Hard to be both gay and a teacher in Georgia, apparently

July 11, 2014

Sad, but not entirely surprising:

A gay Georgia teacher has been told that his contract will not be renewed after four years of teaching music at a Catholic school. Flint Dollar had received no parent complaints and had a clear record at the school; however, the teacher had recently announced his plans to marry his gay partner on social media.

Dollar says that he had been honest about his sexual orientation since he was hired.

Dollar was called in to see the school president on the last day of school. “I was told that … the bishop of the Diocese of Savannah called and expressed his concern that if I was to return it would be against the teachings of the Catholic Church,” he said.

The church, the church. It doesn’t matter how many people Pope Francis will kiss on the side of the road or hi-5, they’ll still pull this old chestnut forward, that to gay is to sin..

The state of Georgia does not have a law prohibiting employers from discriminating against homosexuals, but Dollar plans to use Title VII of the Civil rights act as the basis for a lawsuit. Title VII prevents employers from discrimination of sex.

Dollar’s attorney Charles Cox said, “When you fire somebody because they are engaging in a same-sex marriage, I think that pretty clearly fits with gender discrimination. You’re being fired because you’re not complying with traditional gender stereotypes, and that’s wrong, and we believe it’s unlawful.”

Dollar says he does not plan to return to the school if he wins the suit.

I don’t know why he’d work there in the first place, but I suppose a job is a job and it’s a tough job market at the best of times. And never mind how great a teacher he might have been in terms of motivating his students into pursuing music careers, or helping them utilize the math of it as a basis for other pursuits. Teh gay is teh evil! Down with teh evil!

I’m always baffled by how much it matters to some people. Why does it matter? Oh right, ideas from 2000+ year old goat herders suggest this is so. Well, going by that logic, I’d rather follow the teachings of the Kama Sutra. It’s as old and more fun:

The title of the text, Kama Sutra , literally means “a treatise on pleasure.” Far more complex than a mere listing of contortionist sexual positions, the Kama Sutra provides a comprehensive manual of living for the good life. Although the central character of the Kama Sutra is the citizenly man-about-town, the text was written to be read by and provide detailed advice for both men and women.

Whoohoo, I must say. I’ve seen the pictures. Whoohoo doesn’t do the book justice.

And, while not as old, The Joy of Gay Sex has supported and lifted the spirits of any and all in need of it for decades. As Publisher’s Weekly notes in its review,

Originally published in 1977, four years after the American Psychiatric Association reversed its decision labeling homosexuality a mental disorder, The Joy of Gay Sex continues to be a popular resource due to its “permissive tone about sex,” an important feature and one that has been carefully retained in this revised edition. Readers may object to the title (which lacks the word “male”), the illustrations (which almost solely feature wiry, tattooed and hairless men) and some of the theories (the “daddy/son scene” may be enjoying increased popularity owing to a “greater need for good parenting”), but this is nevertheless a needed title.

Indeed. The world isn’t really split into MALE and FEMALE and it’s becoming more and more obvious that maybe it was never supposed to be thought about that way from the get-go. For example, the “female” hyena:

it’s not only their behavior that’s masculine. Their clitoris is so enlarged it’s often referred to as a pseudo penis. It’s capable of erection, and the female has sex, urinates, and gives birth through it. Females also have a structure that looks remarkably like a scrotum. Even close up, it can be hard to distinguish a female from a male.

There are theories but no definitive reason for the female hyena’s pseudo penis.

“OMG, cool!” probably doesn’t count.

Oh my… Yes, I wind up quoting George Takei there, but who wouldn’t!?

A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 2

May 8, 2012

I found a copy of A Question of Scruples a while back and decided it might be entertaining to go through the questions and answering them as honestly as possible. Like last time, I’ll answer three questions and add one more for readers to weigh in on.

You want to landscape your property but find that trees cost too much. Do you drive into the woods and take some?

Ha. No. I’d just raid my dad’s yard. Mom and Dad planted 2000 trees or so on their acreage in the early ’70s and saplings pop up all over the place, often where they don’t want them. They’d gotten theirs through Indian Head’s PFRA Shelterbelt Centre.

The benefits of shelterbelts are numerous. Shelterbelts reduce wind speed and thereby create a microclimate for yards, gardens, and crops. The wind is deflected up and over the shelterbelt, creating a well-protected zone in the lee of the belt. The zone of protection extends outward many times the height of the trees. Reducing wind speed can have a dramatic energy saving benefit. On average, a mature 5-row shelterbelt, with at least 2 rows of conifers, planted around a farmhouse will reduce its heat requirements by 25%. The trapped snow provides water for dugouts and soil reserves.

Not to mention trapping the pesky CO2 while they’re at it, and providing refuge for wildlife of all kinds, especially birds.

A friend wants to copy and swap some expensive software. You know it’s illegal. Do you swap?

My copy of Scruples come out in 1984 just as personal computers were coming into focus as affordable fun for the whole family. Apple’s famous ad for the Macintosh ran that year during the Superbowl. My school bought a couple Apple II’s for the whole student body to share and by 1987 there were two IIe’s in every classroom. The junior high I attended after had a whole room filled with computers for kids who wanted to take the programming class. I was satisfied with what little I knew of BASIC and LOGO, which wasn’t much. I never owned a computer until I reached university and discovered they were actually useful for other things. To finally answer the question, yes, I’d probably agree to a swap if we each had something the other wanted. Illegal or not, cops have more important things to do than crack down on software trading when it’s on a one-on-one basis. Cops could get after the library for loaning out DVDs and CDs, too. It’s pretty damned obvious that if someone borrows fifty CDs Friday night and drops them off again Saturday morning that they probably ripped every one of them to their computer. We don’t flag their cards and report them. No proof they did that. Suspicions, but no proof. I think far too many people have already shrugged off the illegalities of it and it barely tarnishes their notion of being a law-abiding citizen. And to get biblical on your ass, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Do you see any stones flying?

Someone you don’t particularly like invites you to an expensive restaurant that you’d love to try. Do you go just for the meal?

Is he or she treating? I can think of a few people I’d force myself to sit across from if it meant I got free food out of it. If it’d be up to me to pay my way, I’d pass on the offer. I’d rather plan a night there with people I enjoy being around.

Last question, left for you to answer. Feel free to answer the other three as well.

The government has been overthrown by a party that is violent and undemocratic. You are asked to join the underground. Do you?

The title says it all: Jesus not guilty

May 3, 2011

Not guilty of what, you ask? This:

THE faithful at St Thomas’ Anglican Church are convinced local residents, and not Jesus, killed their fig trees.

There’s a story in the bible where Jesus curses a fig tree to death because it’s not producing fruit (Mark 11:12-14; 20-25). Way to fix the problem, Jesus. I don’t know what kind of lesson people are supposed to take from it, bear fruit or you’ll piss Jesus off? (If you care, bible study lessons regarding these verses are here and here.)

The Rector at the church in Leichhardt, New South Wales, suspects vandalism. The trees are quite tall so possibly people got sick of Newton’s law of gravity being tested on their noggins when the figs were in season, plus fruit bats congregate there whenever the fruit falls and not everyone thinks they’re cute.

“This is also an act of cultural vandalism. Famous Australian architect Edmund Blacket (who designed University of Sydney and St Andrew’s Cathedral) built the old house next to the trees.’‘

Leichhardt Council has received two reports of tree poisoning in the past 12 months, while Marrickville has had nine requests to investigate poisoning incidents in the same period.

Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss was also angered last month when a tree near his house in Annandale was poisoned in a similar fashion. Mr McGrath did a letter drop in the area during the weeks after he discovered the damage on January 22. The church will be forced to fork out thousands of dollars to remove the trees later this year.

It’s unfortunate that people will resort to these kinds of behaviours. Would they ever have a good reason to kill trees? Makes a person wish Ents existed…

If your teacher’s scared of science…

August 16, 2010

I feel sorry for every kid in the class.

Dr Mark Spencer, who rose to fame after appearing on the BBC’s Museum of Life series, said teachers ‘scream at the sight of insects’ and are ‘frightened of handling soil’.

In an interview with Horticulture Week, the man in charge of the herbariums at the Natural History Museum, said Britain faced a shortage of naturalists in the future just when the country will need experts to deal with the threat of climate change and biodiversity loss.

He blamed the problem on a “lack of teachers who know about the natural world”.

“Even if the Government decided to put natural history on the primary curriculum, how would it do so with teachers who don’t have the basic skills? They are often terrified of the natural world – they scream at the sight of insects and tell the children ‘don’t touch’. The whole point is to engage them, but when people are frightened of handling soil, then we have a problem.”

Okay, biology was not my thrill. The plant parts were all right, but once we got into dissection I literally washed my hands of it. And still couldn’t rid myself of the smell of formaldehyde.

I think it’s unfortunate that teachers would be unwilling to get their hands dirty and really show kids how cool plants and insects are, though. I’ve been an ant fan for decades. I never tired of watching them work and wander around their little paths carrying crap several times larger than they were. Entomology wouldn’t have been a big enough interest to do as a school subject, mind you, but I like ants. I love beetles, too. They’re so bloody cool and varied. That’s part of why I’ve kept that little beetle up on my title for so long. I used to change that part quite frequently, but I just love how that photo turned out. I took it in the pasture at home. I took more great beetle shots this time I was home, too.

What they’re chowing down on is a plant Dad called smart weed. There were hundreds of them in that small slough area of the pasture, but no lack of food for them, either. I think he said he’d never seen those beetles in the area before. Click the pic for a larger version so you can really see how metallic and shimmering blue they are. We used to have other beetles in the yard that also had varied colouring on them, some seemed burgundy, others reflected in the teal and blue, and they all hung out on the Caragana hedges. They haven’t been around for years though. No idea where they all went. Everything goes in cycles, I suppose.

Mom’s the horticulturalist in our family, although Dad’s no slouch either. I learned a lot about plants just from hanging out in the yard with them. Mom had lights set up in the basement for years before she had a greenhouse for transplanting. I never had a problem with dirt-related activities. I was a farm kid – what else would I find to dig into? Dad has a pretty good knowledge of wild plants after so many years in the fields and even he gets stumped by things he finds in the pasture once in a while. With all the rain they got this year, the natural grass has never been greener and so many plants really took advantage of the excess moisture to go insane with growth. He’d never seen his land looking that great before and he’s been on it for 40 years.

I’m reminded, too, of a zany decision to pull words out of dictionaries aimed at school kids in Britian. Many of the words chosen had roots in a country life urban kids wouldn’t need to look up, supposedly. Retarded.

The natural world is so darn nifty and it’s a real shame there are kids who are stuck in school situations where their own teachers can’t get up the nerve to show it off. Will kids get interested enough on their own to do the research out of school? Hard to say. If Spencer’s right, though, the answer will likely be no.

It’s time to sneak a peek at Billy Graham’s mail again

July 22, 2010

I’d do this more often, but Graham’s advice to people always runs the same tired route, and I hate having to repeat myself. Here’s yesterday’s issue.

What makes us any different from other animals except for our superior mental abilities? As far as I can tell, we’re just another type of animal, and once we die that’s the end. I assume you don’t agree, but why? — Z.L.

I’m reminded of a Stargate SG-1 episode, interestingly enough. For those unfamiliar with the series (or the movie which launched it), it’s largely about Earth defending itself against this parasitic race called the Goa-uld, who evolved from weird and freaky water snakes into critters who can take over a human host and control it completely. What’s freakier is that such things actually do happen (cat people may not want to read that, but ought to).

So, it comes to pass that a dear friend of Captain Jack O’Neill (played by Richard Dean Anderson in the show, Kurt Russell in the film) is captured by the Goa’uld at the start of season one, along with the wife of Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks/James Spader). They later meet a different group of these parasites who call themselves the Tok’Ra, who have actually perfected a symbiotic relationship with the host, unlike the villains who just take bodies over and keep the host’s mind and memories trapped somewhere lost inside. They also have the ability to move parasites out of their hosts and into new, willing bodies (which are few and far between, for obvious reasons – pro: longer life con: never alone in your own head. Hmm. Toss up…).

Skaara (Alexis Cruz in both) turns out to have a pretty strong personality, though, and in season 2 (the episode “Pretense”), SG-1 (the team O’Neill and Jackson are part of) learns that he’s managed to take control of himself long enough to attempt escape. He lands on a planet full of people who give a damn about fair trials, so that’s lucky.

What transpires is something of a court case where Skaara is fighting for the right to his body. The Goa’uld invited to argue Klorel’s side makes some sly comments about the nature of intelligence during his speech, along the lines of the fact that humans will eat animals, therefore animals are the lesser species. Goa’uld think humans are the lesser species, therefore have the right to keep doing what they’re doing. Pigs think they’re smarter than rats, probably too, he says. Jack, Daniel, and Skaara argue their side well enough to tip the vote their way – that slavery is slavery – and anyway, having giant Goa’uld motherships appear in the sky looking like trouble probably helped a little, too (hence the title of the ep).

So back to the question. Is our mind’s ability to reason and rationalize the only way we can convince ourselves we’re the superior creatures here? I’m thinking yes. I’m also thinking that if we were to suddenly find ourselves without power and lacking most of our more enjoyable weapons of choice, though, the balance would tip in favour of the critters who’ve lived by their instincts for millions of years, instead of quashing them all, like us, because we favoured using our higher brain functions instead of our highly-evolved sense of risk. And really, how much intelligence does a virus need to lay waste to an unprepared immune system? Zip. They just do what they do and we pay for it.

So, onto Graham’s (predictable) advice.

Have you ever really thought about how vastly different we are from any member of the animal kingdom? The gap is enormous, and you need to take it seriously because it demonstrates clearly that we’re not just animals.

Darn tootin’ we are. Monkeys and crows and rats and elephants and many other kinds of animals have shown a clear sense of having the ability to figure things out in new ways. We have so much in common with our kin and genetic neighbours, it’s no wonder creationists get their freak on over so much of that.

Yes, there are similarities; we have bodies like they do, and someday — like them — our bodies will die and decay. Animals also feel pain (just as we do), and apparently some can even experience emotions in limited ways.

Yes, “apparently” some can. Wow, the science just radiates off him, doesn’t it? Animals do remarkable things for reasons that humans can only attribute to caring about others. And rightly so, I’d think. Once in a while you see stories or videos of rescues where it’s not just instincts coming into play. The willingness to raise the young of some other species is quite remarkable as well. Why bother if there’s no net benefit for the animal doing the raising? And anyone who’s spent any time around cats or dogs or horses can tell by their hackles, ears, and nostrils what kind of mood they’re in. It’s goofy to think they’ve got next to nothing going on in their heads. Worse than goofy; it’s ludicrous.

But we aren’t just a higher form of animal. We are unique, and the reason is because God has put something of Himself within us, what we usually call our soul or spirit. The Bible says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Oh barf on it. So what you’re saying is that God’s the ultimate hermaphrodite? How else could both men and women resemble him? Besides, every animal is a unique animal. Maybe every lion looks the same in the prey’s eyes, but each lion knows who the other is, and anyone daring to study them at length can figure that out pretty quickly, too.

If we think we’re only animals, we’ll end up acting like animals, and we’ll also begin treating others like animals.

This kind of rationale bugs the hell out of me. Animals tend to keep the peace, just living their lives, killing whatever might be required for food – and no more (except in extreme cases). They live their lives with a far better “live and let live” attitude than any human being with a religion behind him can manage. They don’t wreck the earth on purpose. They don’t fight pointless wars. They aren’t tricked very easily, and aren’t easily made fools of in their own natural environments. We should be begging to be treated like animals. There’d be a hell of a lot more respect and decency were that the case.

I pray you won’t go down this path, but that you will discover the joy of knowing God by giving your life to Jesus Christ.

And I hope you realize that Billy Graham can’t give you anything useful in the way of thinking about the world and what lives in it with you. You’d be far better off reading some books about the natural world and how amazing the animals that populate it really are, instead of diving into a book that doesn’t even know how many legs insects have and won’t differentiate between real and fantasy creatures besides.

The One Minion Search Party, vol 33

July 21, 2010

what fallen angel is gaia?

Gaia is a word pagans (and other New Age devotees) pull out when they want to talk Earth Mother stuff. It has nothing at all to do with devils, angels, gods or anything else of a religious nature — not current religions at any rate. Gaia is one of the Titans of Greek mythology.

Gaia is an environmental idea, that the world is a conscious, living thing that we need to care about. Certainly much on the planet is, if not “conscious” as humans define it, at least alive in some fashion, so in a very real sense this is true.

It’s certainly a popular word for companies who want to evoke a “love the earth” personality when people think of them:

The Gaia Trust is from Denmark and interested in promoting ecovillages:

The ideal ecovillage, which does not yet exist – is a sustainable human settlement which is in harmony with all aspects of life, including the cultural, ecological and spiritual dimensions.

You can poke around there to read more about their vision of a perfect world. Whether or not it’s attainable or even sustainable, there’s always the dream, at least.

Gaia also refers to a project put forth by ESA Science & Technology to build a three dimensional map of the Milky Way galaxy so we can really get a decent feel for how big and far away everything is. They won’t be launching until 2012, but hope to run the project for five years once they’re up. Here’s another link about that.

There’s a Gaia University. People can improve their ecosocial skills at a bachelor’s degree level and at the Masters level there is urban village design, green business and some other stuff.

Gaia Clinic in Canmore, Alberta (always think of Mike from Canmore – thanks for that, Royal Canadian Air Farce) offers what they call “collaborative medicine” and their Health Services page provides a breakdown of services they provide under that rather shapeless umbrella.

I could add more, but you get the drift. Aside from that galaxy project, it’s all about living well with the earth.

And we should anyway. We shouldn’t need to evoke a spirituality or shove a deity of any kind into it though. We should care because we have to, not because some religion or philosophy suggests we ought to. Ecologically speaking, we’re beyond stupid to ignore what the earth does for us, and how we can best make sure the earth remains a healthy provider for our ever increasing needs. We also need to figure out more and better ways to give back.