Thursday, October 30, 2008


Here's a letter I received today in an ecology list serve. I enjoyed it, may you as well.

I was intrigued to find one of my favourite particles, the neutrino, show up on this list. As Dr. Novee says, they are hard to find. But I think that there is much about the neutrino that is relevant to ecology.

Ecologists often take it for granted that if theory and experiment disagree, the theory must be wrong. That is how the neutrino was first "discovered", because experiments on scattering produced results that were theoretically impossible - the Compton effect violated both conservation of energy and conservation of momentum. Did the theorists yield? No, they postulated an invisible particle called the neutrino which carried off the missing energy and momentum. No ecologist would fall for such a sneaky trick!

The neutrino concept was of course pure speculation, which many ecologists claim has no place in science.

For many decades there was no experimental evidence for the neutrino (as for the quark and the Higgs boson). And yet, physicists didn't give up, and astrophysicists even started hypothesizing that much of the matter ("dark matter") in the universe consisted of neutrinos.

So far only a handful of neutrinos have been "seen" (the evidence is really sketchy, just a few flashes of light in huge tanks of liquid), certainly not enough to satisfy the ecological standards for experimental proof. On the other hand, there is a noteworthy precedent for building theoretical castles on just a small mound of experimental mud - Kepler's theory of elliptical orbits was inspired by a minor discrepancy between the centuries old theory of epicycles and the observations of his great mentor, Tycho Brahe.

As regards science and politics, when I was a graduate student we thought it was a great joke to spead a whispering campaign about a new weapon, the neutrino bomb, against which there could be no defense. After all, since neutrinos can pass through the entire earth, what man-made shield could deflect them? Of course the reluctance of neutrinos to interact with matter also meant that they could do no harm, which made them the perfect weapon, no defense and no damage. But a wise professor told us to stop before the military heard of this, as they did not appreciate jokes and would spend billions on it before they caught on, and then we would be in deep trouble.

Bill Silvert

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


So spending some days in the Mojave gets you acquainted with the locals. While I've seen numerous native fauna, including pack rats, tarantulas and coyotes, there are a couple specialised little guys I really want to see. They're amazingly adapted for desert livin', and they're f'in cute.

Kit foxes (seen here being adorable)are the smallest member of the canid family and are found in the Mojave. image from

Kit foxes play a really important role in building really extensive underground burrows that other willife utilize. They are, like most desert life, only active at night. They have huge ears. Apart from detecting prey, large blood vessels running through the large ears of the kit fox close to the skin allow their blood to be cooled and transferred through out the body.

They drink no water, as it is obtained exclusively through the prey.

One of their prey species is the kangaroo rat, one of the most interesting developed little guys out here. I have yet to see one alive, but I've seen this...

So these guys are kooky. They have cooled nasal passages, cooler than their core body temperature. When the little critters exhale, agua vapor in their breath condenses in their nose and is reabsorbed. Genius!

Also, they have a crazy long loop of henle. Alot of animals (even us) have these. Its an actual loop. Urine runs through this U- shaped loop. Ions (K+ and Na) actively moved out of the loops descending quadrant. When these ions are moved out, they swing on over by the ascending quadrant. Cause of how gradients work across a membrane, the water exits the loops due to its attraction to the ions, and water is saved.

These little guys have a really looooong loop, meaning more h20 is returned to the system and not peed out. Their urine is 6x as concentrated as ours when we're super dehydrated.

Interesting eh?

I return to the desert Friday. I'll try to find some more science out there.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Oregon is full of rich organic soils, supplemented by potash and minerals from volcanic soils, along with the constant precipitation from the Pacific. It has dense stands of old-growth trees you and another person holding hands cannot completely reach around. I left there, driving south on 199, through the Willamette Valley, Through the linear dimensions of wine country that splay out across northern california, sown through San FRansisco, THrough LA, then turning East to head inland to the Mojave desert.

The Mojave is full of intense smells. Plants have similar tachniques to avoid having moisture rich foliage being eaten. Fragarnt tanins ward of herbivores, while making the desert smell intoxicating after a rain.

Sandy dry soils hold no heat, hold no cold. They reflect the atmospheric temperatures and amplify it, buffering nothing the way a moist climate would.

The locals say these are Joshua TRee forests. The Science in me hates that phrase... Joshua Trees are not trees, and cannot be a forest. And if they were, they would be a savvanah. But its allowable anyways. THese decadent plants fall all over themselves, colapsing and changing dirction . They are the only plant above my waist here. They stab you when they can.

SCA is very cult-like. We live together. We eat vegan food (delicious vegan food). We wear the same clothes. We can't leave for Thanksgiving. We stay in the desert for weeks on end and do not shower.

My job is restoring illegal inroads into wilderness areas made by OHV (Off-highway vehicles) drivers. The roads wind across mountains, you cann see them for miles. We go in and restore them, planting native plants, moving dead trees and logs and giant rocks. At the end of the day you don't see the road anymore, and its a strangely satisfying feeling. Our job is done when it looks like we were never there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I finished a workin'. During my final week in Oregon my mom came up and we traversed the entire state. From Mountain to sea, we saw a ton! It was beeeeautiful. With that, I'll shut up and post a ton of pictures.

Crater Lake!

Rogue Brewery!

What a great state. I have since been on a whirlwind tour of Oklahoma, pictures soon to follow, but I am now on my way to Southern California to begin a position in Southern California. Yay!