(Click here for posts on geophysics and the energy industry.)
Nature: Clean forests prompt pollution rethink. South American streams call current nitrogen-cycle theory into question.
"Nitrogen makes up about 80% of the air, but only a few bacteria can turn the gas into a form that plants can use. Over the past century, nitrate fertilizers and nitric oxides emitted from the burning of fossil fuels have roughly doubled the amount of nitrogen available to the biosphere....
"In many freshwater, estuarine and coastal environments, such as the Gulf of Mexico, this fertilization has changed the range of plants and animals that live there. Nitrogen-loving species swamp others more suited to poorer conditions (the same thing happens in a fertilized lawn). The extra nitrogen can also feed suffocating blooms of algae."
A Moment of Science: Why do men have nipples?
Say the word color, not the word.
Cosmiverse: New Theories Dispute the Existence of Black Holes.
"When an event horizon is about to form around a collapsing star, Mazur and Mottola believe that the huge gravitational field distorts the quantum fluctuations in space-time.... This would create a condensate bubble. It would be surrounded by a thin spherical shell composed of gravitational energy, a kind of stationary shock wave in space-time sitting exactly where the event horizon of a black hole would traditionally be. The formation of this condensate would radically alter the space-time inside the shell."
Houston Chronicle: Questia down to skeleton staff of 28.
"Since launching its online research and paper-writing service aimed at college students a year ago, Questia has had trouble signing up subscribers. With monthly subscriptions of $19.95, the company originally planned on signing up as many as 100,000 users in its first year, but the numbers have been far below that. The company hasn't shared its paid subscriber data, but sources close to the company say the figure has not been much higher than 5,000."
WSJ (subscription): For Safety's Sake, Roundabouts Replaced Stop Lights, but Pileups Began Piling Up.
"But since opening in December 1999, the roundabout has scared the wits out of drivers trying to navigate it.... So far, there have been more than 500 accidents at the roundabout, which was touted at its opening as the greatest ever built in the U.S.... It's a similar story elsewhere. As traffic planners across the U.S. rip out stop signs to install roundabouts that can slow aggressive drivers, some cities are discovering that these so-called `traffic-calming devices' do exactly the opposite."
BBC News: Trawler nets giant squid.
`Giant squid are incredibly rare and scientists have never seen one alive,' said Doug Herdson, information officer of the National Marine Aquarium. `They live in very deep waters, at about 500 metres and below, and provide fodder for the sperm whale.'"
Opt-out cookies for pop-up and pop-under ads. Because pop-up ads suck.
New York Times (free registration required): Crony Capitalism, U.S.A.
"Sad to say, none of this is clearly illegal -- it just stinks to high heaven. That's why the Bush administration will try to keep the Enron story narrowly focused on one company during its death throes. Just remember that the real story is much bigger."
Enron's Cows. Understanding Enron Venture Capitalism.
BBC News: Iceland launches energy revolution.
"Iceland has already gone further than any other country in exploiting its abundant sources of renewable energy. Virtually all of its electricity and heating comes from hydroelectric power and the geo-thermal water reserves tapped from the hot rock layers lying just beneath the surface of this extraordinary island." ...
"The idea at the heart of the project is that Iceland can use its pollution-free, cheap electricity to "split" water into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen through the process of electrolysis, something it has already been doing for nearly 50 years at a plant producing ammonia for fertilisers."
A couple more UK pointers --
The Guardian: America has its advantages. Fifty-two things they do better in America.
> Of course, there are some areas in which the British seem to have us solidly bested --
"One in four Britons has had sex in the car park after the office Christmas party, according to a survey, which said more than 80 percent of British people admitted to enjoying saucy in-car activity."
Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I just finished a trip to England to meet my new employers. It was my first visit to ... well, to Europe actually, but I never got out of the southeast UK. [Not that I wanted to. I am not an ambitious traveler. I think sitting in a pub and unobtrusively listening to the local dialects is the best part of a trip. It's even better if you sort of understand the language.]
Hands down, the oddest (most different) aspect of the UK is the driving. And, surprisingly for me, the most significant difference was not driving on the left side of the road. The oddest aspect of the driving experience was the overriding philosophy that the driver should avoid pausing the car during a ride from point A to point B. I don't think there is a stop sign in the entire county of Surrey; instead they use traffic circles everywhere, so that no one has to be inconvenienced by slowing down when they approach an intersection.
Even traffic lights are implemented with a different philosophy from the American ideal. When a red light is about to turn green, it's yellow light comes on so that the idled driver can get a rolling start (and frequently more than that) into the intersection.
I didn't actually drive while I was there, though. I mostly got around by taxi, and on Saturday I rode into London on a train. When I go back, either for work or, hopefully, for pleasure, I'll definitely arrange to avoid driving again.
It looks a little chilly in London this week.
Meditations on Renaissance art --
Weekly Standard: Hockney'd Ideas. Could the great artists draw?
"The case for the use of optical devices by the Old Masters begins with the observation that mirrors and lenses were widespread in Europe as early as the fourteenth century, with artists learning about the physics of light as Renaissance scholars translated the writings of ancient Greeks and medieval Arabs. Over the following centuries, many visual inventions -- particularly camera lucida and camera obscura -- applied this new science, both to improve observation and as devices of wonder, until 1839 when photography trumped them all with its chemically fixed illusions."
> Some people (including this guy) seem to be upset by the idea that the "masters" could have used optical equipment. I think that's kind of silly; it's not like someone is claiming that these are paint-by-numbers knock-offs. Just mixing and matching colors takes a lot more artistic talent than I'll ever have.
> Anyway, true artistry is in the composition, not the technique.
> (If your technique sucks, though, no one is ever going to call you a master.)
I'm almost operational on this new laptop. It's a big jump, since I'm swearing off OS 9 (Classic Mac) and jumping straight into OS X (that's os ten, not os ex -- the new, improved Unix Mac).
Mac OS X is amazing -- it's Mac, and it's Unix. It's tcsh and AppleTalk. It's Microsoft Office and Fortran. Whoa. It's making my head buzz.
Speaking of MS Office, here's a PR question for Microsoft: What's the deal with 500 bucks for one CD-ROM? I will admit that if you gave me a big stack of manuals with Office v. X, I wouldn't ever actually read them. But they probably wouldn't cost you more than $5 to print, and the end result would be that I wouldn't feel so used.
"... have you noticed the hype on Apple's home page for the upcoming Macworld Expo? Here's the list of taglines from the past three days:
"What are they up to?! This is not typical of Apple's attitude relative to previous Macworld events."
> Why am I reading Mac OS X hints? Because my new Powerbook has arrived!
> I'm feelin' gooooood...
ESPN: Nokia Sugar Bowl.
LSU 47, Illinois 34.
Houston Chronicle: Saban's two-year turnaround lifts LSU back into elite class.
"On the computers where the copy protection didn't work, you can see all 14 CDA tracks on `More Fast and Furious.' While Track 1 wouldn't play (using WinAMP, WMP, MusicMatch, and so on), the rest of the tracks play normally. More importantly, all the tracks were rippable to MP3 format...."