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Catatumbo Lightning…Gone Forever?

March 18th, 2010 No comments

For as long as anybody can remember, where the Catatumbo River empties into Venezuela’s Lake Maracaibo, there has been lightning. For an average of 160 nights a year, 16-40 cloud-to-cloud strikes light the air above the waters of the lake. As many as 20,000 bolts have been recorded in a single night. But that all stopped in January 2010…there have been no strikes since then.

In an online article at The Guardian, locals are concerned about the lack of lightning :

Fishermen in the village of Congo Mirador, a collection of wooden huts on stilts at the phenomenon’s epicentre, are puzzled and anxious by its absence. “It has always been with us,” said Edin Hernandez, 62. “It guides us at night, like a lighthouse. We miss it.”

There has been lightning in the skies around here for most of recorded history :

Electrical storms, product of a unique meteorological phenomenon, have lit up nights in this corner of Venezuela for thousands of years. Francis Drake abandoned a sneak attack on the city of Maracaibo in 1595 when lightning betrayed his ships to the Spanish garrison.

“This is unprecedented. In recorded history we have not had such a long stretch without lightning,” said Erik Quiroga, an environmentalist and leading authority on the Relampago de Catatumbo, or Catatumbo Lightning.

It appears to scientists that El Niño is to blame for the disruption of this phenomenon. The theory is that El Niño has caused a drought in the area, drying up the lakes and rivers that normally exist, and which contribute to the creation of the lightning. Another theory links it to decomposing organic matter which release methane. Yet another theory links it to Andean winds blowing across marshes, generating low pressure and building up an electrical charge in the atmosphere.

The last time the lightning disappeared? In 1906 when a catastrophic 8.8 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Ecuador and Colombia unleashed a tsunami. The lightning returned three weeks later. But the long delay in the lightning’s return this time have locals worried.

Losing the lightning is a symbolic blow. In addition to warding off Drake’s naval assault – an event celebrated in Lope de Vega’s 1598 epic poem – it is credited with helping independence fighters defeat a Spanish fleet in 1823. The state of Zulia, which encompasses Lake Maracaibo, has a lightning bolt across its centre and refers to the phenomenon in its anthem.

Quiroga worries that when rains return the lightning may not recover its former glory. It was dwindling in frequency and force even before the drought, probably because deforestation and agriculture had clogged the Catatumbo river and several lagoons with silt.

“This is a unique gift and we are at risk of losing it,” said Quiroga, who has led scientific teams to its epicentre. He has lobbied Venezuelan authorities to protect the area and the United Nations to recognise it as a world heritage site. A Unesco spokeswoman said there were no plans to do so because electrical storms did not have a “site”.

For more information about the Catatumbo Lightning, check out this brief Wikipedia article.

The Dreams of which Stuff is Made

October 12th, 2009 No comments

I came across an interesting post today, called The Dreams of which Stuff is Made. This is the sort of thoughts about our physical world that totally get me thinking about just how amazing all this really is. Consider these few items, and then head over to the post for more :

  • Tightly coiled in the nucleus of every cell of your body is six feet of DNA bearing your genetic code. Since the body has around 10 trillion cells, there are about 10 billion miles of DNA inside you.
  • With your eyes, you can see the past. Look at the North Star and you are looking at 1300 A.D. Today’s light left that star nearly 700 years ago.
  • Right now, as you remain “still,” you’re moving 400 times faster than a bullet. You are traveling 1,000 miles an hour with Earth’s daily rotation, 67,000 mph with Earth’s yearly journey around the sun, 550,000 mph with the solar system’s revolution around the Milky Way, and 1.3 million mph with the galaxy’s motion through the universe. A bullet goes about 3,000 mph.

I try and talk with people about this stuff all the time, but I can tell they just don’t get how amazingly complex this world…this universe…really is. They get angry when an email doesn’t reach them in 2 seconds, but never stop to think of how amazing that process really is. Or they take the light from stars for granted, not realizing what they are looking at could actually be gone.

Take some time to think about the universe, and what’s really going on. Fun stuff!

Dunn Says Speed Up!

May 25th, 2009 No comments

Dunn Says Speed Up!

Illegal Alien Trash Dumps

April 13th, 2009 No comments

This month I participated in my first “12 of 12,” which is a photography thing where you take tons of pictures (usually with a theme) on the 12th of the month and post the 12 best pictures. For my first go at this endeavor, I chose to take pictures of an Illegal Alien Trash Dump sitting on the outskirts of Tucson, AZ. We all know that illegal immigration into the United States has a host of problems associated, but the trashing of our environment is not one that often comes to mind. I invite you to view these 12 pictures I took, and consider what impact this has on our country.

Virgin Birth in Sharks

October 10th, 2008 No comments

There is a very interesting article today at MSNBC.com about virgin births in sharks. Yes, that’s correct…scientiests have found another instance where a pup carried by a female Atlantic blacktip shark contained absolutely no male genetic material at all.

This is the second documented case of parthenogenesis, or asexual reproduction, in sharks. The first instance occured at a zoo in Omaha, NE.

The medical mystery began 16 months ago after the death of the Atlantic blacktip shark named Tidbit at the Virginia Beach aquarium. No male blacktip sharks were present during her eight years at the aquarium.

In May 2007, the 5-foot, 94-pound shark died of stress-related complications related to her unknown pregnancy after undergoing a yearly checkup. The 10-inch shark pup was found during a necropsy of Tidbit, surprising aquarium officials. They initially thought the embryonic pup was either a product of a virgin birth or a cross between the blacktip and a male of another shark species — which has never been documented, Chapman said.

Tidbit’s pup was nearly full term, and likely would have been quickly eaten by “really big sand tiger sharks” that were in the tank, Chapman said in a telephone interview from Florida.

That is what happened to the tiny hammerhead pup in the Omaha case.

“By the time they could realize what they were looking at, something munched the baby,” he said of aquarium workers. The remains of the pup were used for the DNA testing.

Virgin birth has been proven in other species, including some bony fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds.

Absent the chromosomes present in the male sperm, the offspring of an asexual conception have reduced genetic diversity and, the scientists said, may be at a disadvantage for surviving in the wild. A pup, for instance, can be more susceptible to congenital disorders and diseases.

Scientists speculate that such births could become more common if population densities become so low that female sharks have problems finding partners.

Categories: Science, Weird Tags: , , ,

Why Is Seven A Magical Number?

October 2nd, 2008 No comments

In magical lore and mysticism, all numbers are ascribed certain properties and energies. Seven is a number of great power, a magical number, a lucky number, a number of psychic and mystical powers, of secrecy and the search for inner truth. The origin of belief in seven’s powers lies in the lunar cycle. Each of the moon’s four phases lasts about seven days. The Summerians, who based their calendar on the moon, gave the week seven days and declared the seventh and last day of each week to be uncanny. Life cycles on Earth also have phases demarcated by seven, there are said to be seven years to each stage of human growth, and there are seven colors to the rainbow, seven notes in the musical scale, seven petitions to the Lord’s Prayer, and seven deadly sins. The seventh son of a seventh son is said to be born with formidable magical and psychic powers. The number seven is widely held to be a lucky number, especially in matters of love and money.

[Source : The Handy Science Answer Book]

Sensible Units

June 10th, 2008 No comments

Ever wonder what a square foot, or a yard equals in "sensible units?" As in things that really matter? Well, head over to sensibleunits.com and you can find out things like:

  • 1 Square Foot Equals
    • 2.1 CDs
    • 1.3 Large Pizzas
    • 1.2 Tennis Racquet Heads
  • 1 Yard Equals
    • 7.6 CDs Side By Side
    • 18 AA Batteries End to End
    • 4.2 Average Soccer Ball Diameters
  • 1 Centimeter Equals
    • 1.0 Stacked CD Cases
    • 29 Human Female Fingernail Thicknesses
    • 1.3 Dry Basmati Rice Grains End to End

The possibilities are endless…give it a shot!

Categories: General, Science, Weird Tags:

Your Password Must Contain 18770 Characters!

May 23rd, 2008 No comments

Check out KB276304 from Microsoft. There’s apparently a bug that appears when Windows 2000 is configured to authenticate against an MIT Kerberos domain that throws the following error message:

Your password must be at least 18770 characters and cannot repeat any of your previous 30689 passwords. Please type a different password. Type a password that meets these requirements in both text boxes.

Holy smokes!

Categories: Computing, Humor, Technology, Weird Tags:

Do They Still Burn Witches?

May 21st, 2008 No comments

Yes, they do, if you happen to live in western Kenya. What follows is a story that was posted today at MSNBC.com, titled "Kenya mob reportedly burns 11 ‘witches’":

NAIROBI, Kenya – A group of up to 300 young men have burned to death 11 people suspected of being witches and wizards in western Kenya — in some cases slitting their victims’ throats or clubbing them to death before burning their bodies, officials said.

The gang moved from home to home through two villages, identifying their victims by using a list with names of suspected witches and wizards and the kind of spells they were believed to have cast on the community, said Ben Makori, a local councilor.

"The villagers are complaining that the (suspected) wizards and witches are making the bright children in the community dumb…. These (suspected) witches are not doing good things to us," Makori told The Associated Press on the phone.

Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said the gang hunted down the eight women and three men in the western Kenya villages of Kekoro and Matembe. Most of the victims were between 70 and 90 years old, Owino said.

Senior administrator Njoroge Ndirangu said the gang hunted down their victims Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Victims slashed or clubbed
In some cases the gang pulled the victims out of their homes, slit their throats or clubbed them to death, said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The victims were then thrown back into their homes, which the gang had already set on fire, the officer said. He said 36 houses were burned.

Another police officer, Mwaura Njoroge, said the body of a victim burned to death in her house was, "reduced to something so small, you cannot tell which is the leg and which is the arm."

"How can they (the young men) prove that a person is a wizard? It is likely that the people who committed these killings had personal vendettas against their victims," Njoroge said.

"These people identified who is to be killed by accusing their victims of bewitching their sons and daughters," said Ndirangu, the commissioner in charge of Kisii Central district, where one of the villages is located.

Ndirangu said that residents are superstitious and have often targeted suspected witches and wizards, but this week’s attack was the most shocking in recent years.

The police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said investigators had little hope of making progress because the villagers have refused to identify the people who carried out attacks.

(Copyright 2008, Associated Press)

Sometimes I find it absolutely amazing the level of violence that still exists in the world today.

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Standards for Measurement

May 7th, 2008 No comments

Ever wonder what really defines a meter? Or a second? Or a twip? From Charlie Emrich in the September 2007 issue of Wired comes this list of standards.

  • Meter
    • Standardized in 1983
    • Measures length
    • Defined by the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792/458 second
  • Second
    • Standardized in 1967
    • Measures time
    • Defined by the time it takes for a cesium-133 atom to cycle 9,192,631,770 times between two specific quantum states
  • Ampere
    • Standardized in 1948
    • Measures electrical current
    • Defined by the current required to create a force of 2x10E-7 newtons per meter between two parallel wires
  • Kelvin
    • Standardized in 1954
    • Measures temperature
    • Defined by 1/273.16 the temperature of the triple point of water – when it’s simultaneously gas, liquid and solid
  • Mole
    • Standardized in 1971
    • Measure amount of stuff
    • Defined by the number of atoms in 12 grams of carbon 12 (6.022x10E23)
  • Candela
    • Standardized in 1979
    • Measures brightness
    • Defined by the intensity of a 1/683-watt yellow-green light spread over a square meter, seen from a meter away

Now for some more interesting, obscure units of measure.

  • Gou
    • 180 milliliters – better known as a rice cup for an electric cooker
  • Pack Year
    • cigarette consumption based on one pack a day for a year
  • Nibble
    • typically four bit of binary code, or half a byte
  • Score
    • 20 of something
  • Hand
    • 4 inches of horse height
  • Twip
    • 1/20 of a typesetting point
  • Thrave
    • 24 sheaves of wheat
  • Shake
    • 10 nanoseconds
  • Mickey
    • ratio of computer mouse movement to onscreen cursor movement
  • Jansky
    • strength of radio signals from space
  • Butt
    • two hogsheads, or about 126 gallons, of booze
  • Smoot
    • a measure of length developed by some MIT students, equal to 5′ 7" – the height of one Oliver R Smoot
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