Archive for the 'Science & Nature' Category

The Caterpillar

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

So I’m running along in the Parque Kabah, which is finally no longer the Lago Kabah (lake) and is really, truly back to being a park. Though it does still have areas of standing water, aka mosquito nests. But I digress, which may be the point.

Any how. I’m running along. And there are all these butterflies. They are flying in pairs, swooping together and flitting around in dizzying circles that make you feel twisted inside just from trying to watch them.

And I’m thinking how lovely it is. The butterflies everywhere. Almost brushing up against my face. Almost hitting a tree. But never actually hitting anything. Just flitting and fluttering merrily.

As I’m running I’m realizing that, more than usual, there are tons of caterpillars in the path, worming their way along. So then I’m dancing along trying not to step on these caterpillars, these future butterflies, and I’m trying hard to be hit and graced by the present butterflies, but they never meet my challenge.

Then finally my running is over. And I’m stretching. I have one leg up on a hip-high bar. I’m wondering where my flexibility went. And I’m looking down at the foot holding me up, the only foot on the ground. Then a caterpillar comes out of nowhere, well, it comes from over there. And it is coming straight to my one foot on the ground. And it reaches my foot.

So I’m thinking the caterpillar is going to climb up my foot. Neat. But no. It goes under my shoe!? And then I can’t see it. And then I start getting nervous that I’m going to squish it if I shift my weight AT ALL! And I’m so in love with butterflies that I just don’t want to squish this caterpillar/future butterfly that is under my shoe.

It stays under there. And it stays. I’m worried I’ve already squished it. I consider how to shift my weight to the other leg, to the foot up on the bar. I’m sure I will squish my caterpillar if I bring down my other foot and put it on the ground.

So I’m starting to freak out. And I’m starting to talk to this caterpillar, out loud. “Have I killed you? Are you coming out from under my shoe?” And then triumphantly (for me), and rather nonchalantly (for it), the caterpillar comes out from under my shoe. It wiggles along. No harm done. Had a nice break in the shade. Off to greener pastures. See ya.

Out of my Orbit

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

My 14 year old daughter has been visiting for the last two weeks. Since she’s been here she’s been busy writing short stories. She writes like someone far older…and far more twisted. One day I encouraged her to put up a blog with her stories on it and 20 minutes later she had published her first story.

You can check out her writing here at Auroraphobia’s Senseless Ranting. Auroraphobia is the “fear of the Northern Lights.” She actually has hemaphobia “fear of blood”, not auroraphobia, but you would never know it from her writing. [Her hemaphobia is attributable to seeing me almost bleed to death when she was about three, poor kid. I hope she gets over it.]

Aside from her visit I’ve been walking around with an unshakable sense that I’m doing something wrong, but don’t know what it is. I’ve felt this before, but never this clearly or for this long. The feeling comes and goes, but is altogether too prevalent for comfort.

One bright spot is that someone gave my husband two free plane tickets to Costa Rica. So we are going hiking in the rain forest sometime soon (I can’t wait to be in the mountains). Now we just need a pet sitter for 5 days. Anybody feel like house-sitting for our eight cats and one very cowed dog?

And finally, I have a game to share. It totally takes me back to my 9th grade Earth Sciences class wherein we spent the whole year calculating planetary orbits and making fun of our poor geeky brilliant teacher. I warn you though, it gets hard fast when you have to contend with more than one planet and orbiting moons. Makes you feel sorry for the sun. Play Orbitrunner. Hope you enjoy it.

Say It Isn’t So

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

In the world of web design the use of frames is generally considered to be a bad thing, a big no-no. For those of you who don’t know what an html frame is it’s basically a way of making separate pages appear on screen as one.

There are many reasons why this is bad which I won’t get into. But basically it’s a rare site that actually needs to be coded with frames and which uses them to the clear benefit of the site’s visitors. And often sites using frames are hard both for users to navigate and for search engines to index. In short, frames suck both for the users and for the site owner.

So imagine my surprise when I visited the famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking’s web site and found ugly, nasty, not user-friendly and most importantly NOT EVEN NEEDED frames in use (if your browser window is small enough you see scroll bars which indicate where the edges of the frames are).

One of the most intelligent men on earth has a web site with frames, what is the world coming to?

Out of this World

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

I was just banging around on the internet and found that Google has been up to something cool, take a look at these:

I knew it…

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

One of the blogs I read belongs to a fellow alumnus of Simon’s Rock Early College. On his Profile page Ben lists his occupation as Superhero but in addition to that he’s a mathematician who works mainly in the field of artificial intelligence.

Ben’s most recent post discusses something that I’ve always felt to be intuitively true which is that there may be something to all this paranormal stuff. The post is here: The Scientific Evidence for Psi (is most likely stronger than you think).

If you want to know more about Ben you can Google for “ben goertzel”, and you can find vids of his talks if you go for “ben goertzel youtube”. He’s a very well-indexed man.

Isla Blanca – Before it’s too late

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

To get the chill of New-England-in-July out of my bones I headed up north to Isla Blanca within 18 hours of landing in Cancun last week. Isla Blanca is not actually an island but more of a skinny little mini-cape that curls around Laguna Chakmochuk, north of Punta Sam.

At some places in Isla Blanca there’s not much more than a hundred yards between the ocean and the lagoon. The lagoon is very shallow, and when you muck around in it the water is always really, really warm. The ocean-side has miles of white sandy beach with a bit of turtle grass seaweed thrown up on it by the waves. The water is that perfect Caribbean turquoise color.

Isla Blanca: Looking west at Laguna Chakmochuk
Looking west from the beach at Isla Blanca, you can see Laguna Chakmochuk is just a few hundred yards away

We first fell in love with Isla Blanca 4 years ago, when we moved to Cancun. Back then the road was mostly unimproved, and there were just a few shacks and palapas up there. And I remember remarking the first time I was there that Mexico should preserve Isla Blanca as a National Park.

Our first time up there we saw all manner of water birds, I remember seeing several herons, and many, many pelicans, and the usual million frigate birds, and lots of other birds I can’t identify.

Isla Blanca: Looking north
Looking north from the beach at Isla Blanca

But of course, why would they make a National Park out of it when they can sell it to developers instead? Silly me. Since I first laid eyes on Isla Blanca there’s been all kinds of development between Punta Sam and where the road ends at Isla Blanca. I’m not up to date on all of what’s happening there, but I know that an artificial lake was built up there, I saw them lining it with a massive square-mile rubber membrane. And I know they’ve built a golf course. And there’s at least one hotel going in up there, though I suspect it’s actually more than one. I should know more, but I’ve been so disgusted that Isla Blanca is not being preserved that I have deliberately tuned out news of it’s development.

I know, I suck, head in the sand and all that, clinging to my ignorance deliberately. But money rules here, and I just find it depressing the way Mexico allows it’s most beautiful places to get taken over by hotels. Once the hotels come in the herons will move out, and the Mexicans will be pushed aside and the only people who will enjoy the beauty of (what’s left of) Isla Blanca will be the tourists. And that’s not good enough for me, in fact it makes me sick.

Isla Blanca: Looking north
Looking south from the beach at Isla Blanca

But, for now, there are still places in Isla Blanca where you, me, anybody, can go and enjoy a pristine powder sand beach and a seemingly endless view unbroken by hulking ugly hotels.

To get to Isla Blanca we took Bonampak Avenue north out of Cancun. And when, close to Punta Sam, we came to a big manicured glorieta (traffic circle) where there was a gate, we went 3/4 of the way around the circle and got on a road that runs just west of the gate. We took that road until we reached another traffic circle and this time made our way off the paved road onto a dirt road running next to a shack.

Sam the sandy man at Isla Blanca
Sam the sandy man enjoying the beach at Isla Blanca

Once on this dirt road you simply follow the road until the very end. At the end of the road is a ramshackle “restaurant”, not that I would trust my stomach or health to that place, but people do eat there. We parked just south of the restaurant and then huffed it with all our stuff (cooler, beach chairs, umbrella, spy novels, dog) north up the beach another half a kilometer.

And that’s where we took the pictures I’ve posted here. There’s a bit of seaweed there. And sometimes there’s some garbage, but not much by un-hotel-groomed Mexican beach standards.

I don’t know how long Isla Blanca will remain open and accessible. Maybe some part of it will always be open to Mexican non-tourists. I hope so. But I won’t bet on it.

Google Earth image of Isla Blanca
Google Earth image of Isla Blanca, the marker is just about where we took the photos

Before Hurricane Wilma hit the road to Isla Blanca went further north. Wilma appears to have destroyed the last half a mile of it or so. Better I say, for it’s lack helps preserve the beautiful wild place that still is Isla Blanca.

I warn you though, people HAVE discovered Isla Blanca. Our pictures were taken on Sunday, and you don’t see people in them only because we walked north, away from all the people. Down by the restaurant, where we parked, there were several hundred people enjoying the beach. I highly recommend visiting Isla Blanca during the week if you can. If you come mid-week you will see almost no one. Regardless, when you do come be sure to walk north, the farther north you go the more pristine Isla Blanca is.

A Hurricane 5,000 Miles Across

Thursday, November 9th, 2006

Here in Cancun we recently marked the 1-year anniversary of Hurricane Wilma. Hurricane Wilma was the most powerful storm on record to come out of the Atlantic Basin. At its peak Wilma had maximum sustained winds of 175 mph (though thankfully they slowed before it hit us here), and its hurricane force winds extended out 85 miles from the eye. It also had the lowest central pressure ever recorded in an Atlantic hurricane, at 882 mb.

It turns out that the Cassini spacecraft has recently recorded images of a huge “hurricane-like” storm which is stationary over the south pole of Saturn. This storm makes Wilma look like a little dust-devil. The winds in this storm on Saturn are moving at 350 mph (550 km/h) and the storm is between 2 and 5 times taller than any earthly storm. But to me the amazing thing is that this storm is 5000 miles across (8000 km). I just can’t fathom a storm that big, especially not one moving that fast.

Related Information:

What Gender is Your Brain?

Friday, August 11th, 2006

I just took this very interesting BBC Sex ID Test which was published by the BBC as part of a series on gender differences. It takes about 15 minutes to do, and you’ll need a metric ruler to complete it. It turns out that my brain isn’t wired all the way feminine or all the way masculine. The test results show that I’m highly empathic, which is a feminine trait, but that I have a very strong brain for engineering, which is obviously a masculine trait and explains why I’ve worked in the computer industry for 16 years. In fact the results in both directions were extreme. It’s very interesting.

When my mom was pregnant with me she was sure I was a boy. I would have been named Kevin!

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