Science

Extended drought: What do you think will happen? How would we be affected?

August 27, 2014 | Ray | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

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Former Fish of Folsom Lake [image from Associated Press]

If you've been following the news, perhaps you've heard something about the extreme drought that riddles nearly the entire state of California.  The snowcaps from the mountains haven't been replentished over last winter and the mountain rivers the supply the water reservoirs are running dry.  Even the reservoirs are down to mere puddles.  Since we're surrounded by freshwater lakes and even living on a great lake, why would we care? 

For starters, tons of food is imported from California. Strawberries, almonds, most out-of-season fruits and veggies.  Ultimately the high cost of water (due to scarcity) may impact agriculture - determining what plants and animals can be grown with little water - and supply could affect the prices at the supermarket.  Conventional breeds of beef cattle are known to consume more resources than chickens, many places with little water raise goats and sheep rather than cows.  Is it possible that longer-term drought could affect the food supply chain? Perhaps plants that are better for dryer conditions - drought-tolerant plants like sweet potatoes, millet, and sorghum - could have increased production.  How do you think we might be impacted?

So what does this drought look like? Dramatic photos taken around Califoria reveal what used to be hidden at the bottom of water reservoirs - cars, furniture, and garbage is now roasting under the sun. 

The largest reservoir for California, Lake Mead, is dangerously low.  Using a sliding comparison bar, check out these past and present photos of the lake

 

Meanwhile, people across California are asked to reduce water consumption and in some cases are asked to replace green lawns with native, drought-tolerant species like succulents and cacti.  What do you think? What would a lawn of native Ontario plants look like? 

Will reduced water consumption and replacing lawns have an impact? Is this a way to begin rethinking water use? 

 

Comet spacecraft reaches comet after 10 years in space

August 20, 2014 | Ray | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

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Comet Hale-Bopp [image from Wikipedia]

IndexEver wonder what a comet looks like, up close?  The spacecraft Rosetta was sent to find out has finally reached it's target comet after travelling out for 10 years.  10 years of space travel!  That comet is (thankfullly) far out. Here's a very in-depth article from New Scientist. What's so rad about this spacecraft, is it will LAND on the comet.  Whoh, never has that happened.  Scientists are hoping to find clues to the origins of life on earth. Here's the latest from NASA.

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She's got the record for the most comets discovered!

So what is a comet? It's mostly a giant spitball of ice and dirt. Famous Canadian David Levy knows a thing or two about them, he's discovered 22 of them!   He's written tons about space, I'd say he's pretty well qualified to do so too. 

Did you know, the person who's discovered the most comets is a woman astronomer. Cool! Carolyn S. Shoemaker (Yes, part of the Shoemaker-Levy comet crew) has discovered 32 comets and over 300 asteroids.  Pretty darn cool.

Here's a close-up photo from Rosetta: 

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Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko [photo from NASA]

 

 Kinda looks like something that's stuck under cafeteria chairs, but much more fascinating. 

Sovereign Bodies, Bio Ethics and Sci-Fi

August 13, 2014 | Ray | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

HandmaidsThe body has been a battleground and a test ground in sci-fi, often reflecting reality and grappling gritting examples of bio-ethics. If you've read the classic Handmaid's Tale and are looking for something just as thought-provoking but set on another planet, DO get a copy of Lilith's Brood.  Written by the kick-butt author Octavia E. Butler, she's won the Hugo and Nebula awards and the prestigous MacArthur Fellowship.

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If you happen to want a graphic novel with human-animal hybrids and page-gripping scenes, check out Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth series.  It scared the boogers out of me and I read the first book all in one subway ride.  When I surfaced, my mind was still blurred from the book and reality didn't seem so real.  - A common condition known as book hangover.

If you've read Handmaid's Tale or other books that have human-alien, human- Sweettooth
animal, human-robot reproduction or other augmented reproduction -what did you think? Did any of the books examples strike you as totally possible? Have any of them come true? 

After I finished Oryx and Crake, I eerily came across the article of synthesized 'meat' proteins, much like the Chkn products in the book. While it sounds creepy, it could have positive implications for animal welfare.  What are your thoughts? Do you think synesized meat could successfullly mimic the 'real' thing? What ethical implications are possible - for humans and for animals? Especially with growing food demands on an ever-more populated planet, could this be a more sustainable solution?

ZooCitySeeking magical realism with animals and dystopia?

Check out Arthur C. Clarke award winner Zoo City. Set in Johannesburg, South Africa this book stands out. Abandoning the usual tropes, this book is out of the mainstream and delves into a world where magical animals are the familiars of criminals, murderers, and the kick-butt protagonist Zinzi.  She has a talent for finding lost things and solving the complexities around her brother's murder.

 

Want gut-wrenching parasites in fiction?  Parasite

Check out the bio-pharm-thriller Parasite! The protagonist's life is under the control of a mega pharmaceutical corporation, they saved her with an experimental genetically modified tapeworm, but can she ever regain her autonomy and person-hood?

 

 

Chicken and the Egg. An eternal puzzle.

July 30, 2014 | Ray | Comments (2) Facebook Twitter More...

Awesome video that takes a crack at the timeless puzzle, which came first: the chicken or the egg?

Finally! A plausible explanation! But the T-Rex came first, amirite?

For more, check out the IFL Science article

De-Extinction, or why Jurassic Park will probably not happen.

July 30, 2014 | Ray | Comments (7) Facebook Twitter More...

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Oh the thrills of Jurassic Park - a movie classic.  That scene with the T-Rex still scares me! (It's embedded below.)

De-extinction is a possibility, but even if we could bring back species, would it be the actual animal? We have no idea how the animal behaved, how it interacted with the local ecosystem and microbacteria, in fact it's sort of an egg-but-no-chicken idea.  Would a wolly mammoth behave and act like a woolly mammoth, or would it just look like one?  

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Modern, backbred auroch. Note, it is way bigger than a large cow, more like an ox!

In Europe, they're successfully bringing back a lost species of wild cattle through a technique called backbreeding.  The animal is the auroch, which was included as a mythical creature in the magical movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild

 It's been so successful, they've recently released this backbred, wild-ish cattle in to the mountains of Eastern Europe.  Cool!  After 500 years, these creatures are re-inhabiting the mountains.  

I wonder what complications will come of this for the people living in and tourists visiting the mountains.

 

 

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Passenger Pigeon

And then there's the mighty passenger pigeon.  Check out the fascinating discussion of undoing extinction with passenger pigeons through backbreeding and crossbreeding of its closest relatives.  Did you know that the ROM has the most specimens of this extinct bird?  Here's a podcast from CBC that goes in-depth on how it might actually work.  It's captivating to think about!

And here's the ROM's perspective on their drawers of passenger pigeons and what that means for scientists.

 

 

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Curious to know more about de-extinction? Check out The Sixth Extinction on the Word Out Science List.

 

 

I love rewatching this movie clip and getting scared over and over.

Try, TRY to keep breathing.  It's scary!!

I'd rather revive the passenger pigeon than a T-Rex...just sayin'.

Out of all the extinct creatures, which one would you bring back? 

Rabbit hole of lists of known extinct creatures

...and can we get a count of how many screams happen in this clip?

And we thought the pet caiman was exotic...this is perhaps world's oldest 'pet'.

July 30, 2014 | Ray | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

 

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Pet Ham [photo from Isle of Wight County Museum]

Perhaps you heard about the brief case of the caimen in High Park's pond.  Here's another peculiar pet, one that is more eccentric than exotic: a cured ham.  You might say it is a cure-ious pet.

That's right. If you ever find yourself in Virginia, stop in at the Isle of Wight County Museum to check out the 112 year old ham.  I don't know of any other pet that is quite so old.  Not even 24 year old, Poppy,  the world's oldest cat  (recently passed on) came close to the age of this cured ham.

Fashion Futures with the Textile Museum of Canada

July 29, 2014 | Thomas | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

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This post was guest written by the superbly fantastic Susan Fohr, one of the fine people who work at the Textile Museum of Canada. Meet Susan at three awesome events at library branches across the city later this summer!

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, the decisions we make about what to wear are never random. We choose what we wear according to the weather, what we’ll be doing, who we’ll be with, what’s available to us, and how we’re feeling. While we will continue to ask these questions as we make decisions about what to wear each day, fashion is always in flux, providing as with new opportunities to express ourselves through our clothing and new styles and technologies.

Continue reading "Fashion Futures with the Textile Museum of Canada" »

Very Ancient Cosplay. Possibly the first cat costume.

July 23, 2014 | Ray | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

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According to some sources, archaeologists in Peru have uncovered what could be an ancient cat costume of the pre-Inca civilization.  The unearthed costume-like items include earrings, and metal-work cat paws with claws.  Ouch!

Check out the article with photos

Just more evidence of cats and humans sharing an incredible history! 

Bogs, Glaciers, Deserts: Great places to find preserved humans and old pants

July 23, 2014 | Ray | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

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Tollund man [photo from Wikipedia]

Every few years or so, preserved humans that are thousands of years old are discovered in bogs, retreating glaciers, and deserts. It's truly fascinating!  

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People have pretty much looked the same since we became human.  According to Jared Diamond in The Third Chimpanzee, if you took a Cro-Magnon and put them in contemporary street clothes, they'd blend right in.  Check out the famous Tollund man - found in a Danish bog, he is even wearing a toque!  Even the tattoos of a 2,500 year old Siberian princess look contemporary. Tattooing is an ancient practice.  Is tattooing exclusive to humans? I'm not aware of any animals that have the tools or cultural practices necessary for tattooing.  More recently preserved humans - only a mere 100 years old - soldiers from WWI have been found in retreating glaciers in the Alps.  

 

This brings up the question - what are things that make humans distinct from other animals? 

Continue reading "Bogs, Glaciers, Deserts: Great places to find preserved humans and old pants" »

My letter to a teenager.

July 18, 2014 | Thomas | Comments (8) Facebook Twitter More...

Ron Mueck’s Boy at the ARoS museum, Aarhus Denmark. Photo by Dan Riskin
Ron Mueck’s Boy at the ARoS museum, Aarhus Denmark. Photo by Dan Riskin


 

This is guest post was contributed by the amazing Dan Riskin, co-host of Daily Planet on Discovery Canada, and the author of Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You.

When a tree makes seeds, the last place it wants those seeds to grow is right there on the ground next to it. A seed growing in the shade of its own parent will compete with its parent for nutrients, sunlight, and water. It’s far better if the tree wraps that seed up inside a delicious ball of sugars, so that some bird or mammal will come, take the ball away to eat it, and then drop the seed somewhere else by accident. (That’s why mangos are delicious.)

If you think about it, a lot of teenage traits make sense when you think of teenagers as seeds about to drop from the parental tree. The most obvious of these is the way teenagers and parents annoy one another – it’s an obvious mechanism to ensure that the family spreads out geographically. But perhaps even more importantly, teenagers are risk-takers, and that helps them succeed in the great big world beyond the family backyard.

Continue reading "My letter to a teenager." »