Wednesday/ Big K is going away

The original International Prototype Kilogram (Big K), safe within three vacuum-sealed bell jars. Credit: BIPM

The kilogram is currently defined as the mass of a chunk of platinum-iridium alloy created in 1889, that is housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France. (Le Grand kilogram, or Big K, as it is affectionately known).

But what if Big K gets stolen, or damaged? And it has already (mysteriously) lost some 50 micrograms since 1889. So this state of affairs will not do for the 21st century.

This Friday in Versailles, a gathering of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, is expected to vote to redefine the kilogram by its existence as a unit in the Planck constant.  This new definition is very complicated to explain (see here).  For it to work, the Planck constant also had to be precisely defined and fixed to 9 significant digits, with the aid of a Kibble balance.

And voila!

Wednesday/ it’s going to rain

There is finally some rain on the way for Puget Sound, after a long stretch of dry weather. The meteorologists can see the systems approaching from way out west over the Pacific Ocean.

Below are some high-speed photographs of falling water drops, from an article published in 2009 by Emmanuel Villermaux. He wanted to study how big raindrops behave, as they make their way down to the ground. Raindrops of all sizes can come out of clouds, as the tiny drops (20 µm) combine to make bigger ones. But really big drops will flatten as they fall through the air, into little pancakes, then turn into little bags, and then break up altogether. So drops that reach the ground are at most 6 mm (0.25 in) in diameter. The terminal velocity of a rain drop is about 10 m/s (20 mph).

Saturday/ chameleon of the seafloor

I love this picture of an octopus, the ‘chameleon of the seafloor’. The skin of an octopus is like that of a pointillistic work of art: it has millions of chromatophores (cells with pigments). Octopuses have yellow, orange, reds, browns or even black pigments, and can camouflage itself against its background when an enemy approaches.  There is a complex connection between its brain, its nervous system, and the nerve cells that control the color of its skin.

Source: Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. Picture by Stephan Junek.

Tuesday/ here comes Michael

Hurricane Michael will make landfall in the Florida panhandle tomorrow. It’s going to pack a powerful punch, with winds that could exceed 100 mph. At least it is projected keep moving at a steady pace, and not sit in one place like Florence did.

Source: the National Weather Service.
Update from Wed 10/10 from the New York Times: The hurricane made landfall as a Category 4, with winds of 155 mph (250 kph), unheard of. Its winds rapidly picked up speed as it approached the Florida panhandle.

Monday/ repairs after the rains

Light rain is finally starting to fall here in Seattle, after the driest summer on record. (Rainfall for May-August was 2.5″, compared to 7.0″ normally).

Here’s another one of my resident European garden spiders (Araneus diadematus), repairing its web today, from a little wind and rain damage.

Spider silk is more durable and elastic than even the strongest man-made fiber, Kevlar, which is used to fill bulletproof vests. Silk is mainly protein, but a single spider can produce as many as seven different silks from its spinnerets. The silks in the radial lines, and the spiral lines in this web are different, and the spider also dots the radial lines with sticky balls of silky goo. Watch out, flying insects.

Monday/ a spider, to frighten miss Muffet

‘Little miss Muffet sat on her tuffet,
eating her curds and whey.

Along came a spider
who sat down beside her

and frightened miss Muffet away’.
— Nursery rhyme that first appeared in print in 1805, in a book titled Songs for the Nursery. Its origin is not known.

I found this European garden spider (Araneus diadematus) by my garage today. These spiders are orb-weavers and found throughout Europe and across North America.

Monday/ a little walk in the woods

We did another little walk in the woods today – just through a woodsy area near Paul’s house here in the Hansville area.

The trail is dry this time of year, but can get squishy and muddy in some places, in the rainy season. So the planks covered with chicken wire are a nice addition.
This is a parasitic bracket fungus. It grows on fir tree bark. The genus is probably Fomitopsis (I found similar pictures online). Ötzi the Iceman (5,000 yr-old mummy found in the Alps in 1991), had similar kinds of fungi with him. The fungus could be used for food, but also as tinder (to start a fire with).
I don’t know what kind of spider this is, but I love the geometry of its web, and the rainbow tints that some strands get as the sunlight strikes it.
Here is a belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyonis) with its jaunty head feathers. I was not quite close enough to the little bird for a sharp picture, but the camera’s 135 mm zoom helped a lot.
I had better luck with an osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sitting closer to me in a tree on the high bank. I had to wait for it to take off to get a clear shot at it, though.
Here’s the Agate Pass Bridge (constructed 1950) on our way back to the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal.
And here comes Seattle downtown, as we approach it from Bainbridge Island. That’s the Celebrity Infinity cruise ship on the left, in from Vancouver, and setting sail on Tuesday morning for Astoria, Oregon (final destination San Diego). The ship was launched in 2001, and can accommodate 2,500 passengers.

Monday/ a woodpecker

This brown woodpecker is called a ‘northern flicker’ (Colaptes auratus). It spent a little time foraging for insects on my front lawn this morning. (Yes, the poor lawn is yellowed out from the three dry months of summer, but it will slowly start to green up, now that the rain is returning).

Northern flickers are unusual among North American woodpeckers in that their general coloration is brown, rather than black and white. They are ground feeders that live principally on ants, but also eat other insects and some fruit, seeds, and berries. [Source: http://www.birdweb.org]

Saturday/ Oaxaca, Grumpy Cat & helium

I’m about to hop onto the No 10 bus. The Mexican flag & Oaxaca sign at the Coastal Kitchen restaurant entrance indicate that a few Oaxaca dishes are on the menu right now. Oaxaca is famous for its moles (sauces).

Here’s the No 10 bus stop closest to my house, that I frequently take to go to downtown.

One of my favorite Grumpy Cat memes. Grumpy Cat is an American internet celebrity cat.

Oaxaca (say ‘wa-HAH-ka’) is in southwestern Mexico and best known for its Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous peoples and cultures.

Look for a Grumpy Cat helium balloon carried by the child in the bottom middle of the picture.

As it happens, helium was discovered 150 years ago to the day, on August 18, 1868, by the French astronomer, Jules Janssen, during a total solar eclipse. There is a strong case to be made that helium balloons be banned.

We have a limited helium supply in Earth’s crust; we cannot manufacture it, and we need it for superconductors and MRI scanners. So putting helium in balloons is a frivolous waste.  Once helium ends up in the atmosphere, it is lost forever into space – it is too light to be contained in the atmosphere by gravity.

Monday/ pleased to eat you

The popcorn movie ‘The Meg*’ is out on the circuit. Even though I have not seen it yet, it’s fun to check the movie’s trailer online, and the posters for it. The movie is a co-production with China, and features actress Li Bingbing alongside Jason Statham.

*Short for Carcharodon megalodon, a really, really big shark (60 ft/ 20m) that roamed the oceans until about 2.6 million years ago.

Carcharodon megalodon was bigger than a school bus, and could swim twice as fast as today’s great white sharks [Infographic from fossilera.com]
Fossilized teeth of Carcharodon megalodon are still found, but not much else (the shark had a cartilage skeleton). We also do not know why they went extinct .. probably because they ran out of food to eat!  [Infographic from fossilera.com]

Movie posters in different languages. Let’s see: Opening Wide is a movie reference (the movie opens in a large number of theaters) | Spanish ‘Te dejará con la boca abierta‘ – It will leave you with your mouth open | German ‘Biss bald‘ – ‘Bite’ you soon; a word play on ‘Bis bald’ – See you soon | Russian КуШАТь ПОДАНО! – Dinner is served!
An alternative movie poster with the tagline ‘Pleased To Eat You’ and two beautiful beach Homo sapienses as shark food, complete with an American food label. I am very sure the megashark will not peruse the food label beforehand !

Wednesday/ got the wandering porcupine

The African crested porcupine that I mentioned in a post in May, has been caught, in the Spanaway area (south of the city of Tacoma).
His new home will be the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon.

Here is the Spanaway porcupine enjoying a banana shortly after being caught. The African crested porcupine is the largest species of porcupine in the world and one of the largest rodents in the world.

Tuesday/ the Neanderthals

Here’s an article from Discover magazine, with the latest research about the Neanderthals: an extinct species of humans, that roamed around in ice-age Europe from 120,000 years, up to 35,000 years ago.

Will Homo sapiens still be around even a 1,000 years from now? Homo sapiens means ‘wise human’ .. a misnomer, it seems. Can modern-day humans should stop their wars, and stop destroying Earth?

Monday/ Mount Rainier

I had not been to Mt Rainier ever since I had made Seattle my home, and so Bryan and I made a day trip out there today. We first stopped at the Sunrise Viewpoint to the northeast, and then drove around to the Paradise Viewpoint to the south. From there we hiked up the mountainside for an hour or so, to take a closer look at the mountain.

Mount Rainier is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and the highest mountain in the state of Washington. Elevation: 14,411′ (4,393 m). Last eruption: 1894.
Glaciers are slowly moving masses or rivers of ice formed by the accumulation and compaction of snow on mountains (or near the poles). The Sunrise Viewpoint is northeast of the mountain, and Paradise Viewpoint to the south.
This is the view of Mt Rainier and its summit, after walking up just a few hundred feet from one of the trails starting at the Sunrise Visitor Center.   This is at 6,400 ft (1,950 m) elevation, the highest point that can be reached by vehicle at Mt Rainier National Park.
The Alpine style day lodge at Sunrise Visitor Center.
Here is the view of the mountain from the south, from the new Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center (at the Paradise Viewpoint). Elevation here is about 5,400 ft (1,645 m). The trail on the right goes up, up, up to where the brilliant green ends. The trail is very, very steep at its start, even though it does not look like it is. Further up, we found large patches of snow to step onto. With a lot of summer weather remaining, maybe a lot of it will still melt.
A waterfall of melting snow on the rock face on the south side of the mountain. To the north face of the mountain, the Whitewater river springs from Emmons glacier – a milky white river, running very low at this time of year.
This ‘paint by numbers’ view is found looking south, after we had walked up for an hour or so from Paradise Viewpoint. Look for the faint outline of Mount Adams in the distance, top right.
A yellow sub-alpine flower that I don’t know the name of, with a happy bug on it.
Mr Chipmunk saying hello. Chipmunks are small, striped rodents of the family Sciuridae, same as the one that tree squirrels and ground squirrels belong to.  They hibernate in winter, but wake up every few days to feed on stored food (rather than fat reserves).
Another wildflower from the Paradise Viewpoint.  I will have to look for its name online!
Here is the scary part of beautiful Mt Rainier, stratovolcano mountain that it is. A large eruption will result in debris flows (the red), and destructive mudflows called lahar further down (the yellow). It is amazing how far away from the mountain, communities alongside the rivers, and in the valleys, are at risk. The city of Seattle at the very top of the picture will come out OK, it seems (but Seattle has tectonic plates in the Pacific, and the economic fortunes of Amazon to contend with). 

Friday/ squirreling

First thing on summer mornings, I open the kitchen door to let the cool morning air in.
I keep a leery eye on the squirrels that are usually out and about, or on the backyard fence. I doubt they will sneak into the house when I’m not looking .. but you never know.

Mr Squirrel on the fence, all innocent, keeping his eye on me, and contemplating his next move ..
.. which is to hop onto the post, and take a flying leap onto the next section of the fence, and then jump up onto the neighbor’s roof.

Friday/ a T-Rex in the store

I love this near-life size Tyrannosaurus Rex cut-out in the Target department store. The beast with its beady eye is used to flog Jurassic Park DVDs and toy models – as well as the opening of the new Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom movie, today.

The T-Rex was one of the largest land carnivores of all time. The largest complete skeleton (nicknamed ‘Sue‘) was discovered in 1990 in South Dakota, and is now in the Field Museum in Chicago. Sue was 28 yrs old at her death, and roamed around 67-65 million years ago.

Sunday night/ a chubby penguin

I think this is a (chubby) young king penguin. I am sure he is smelling the fish in the bowl, and about to gobble all of it up, just as soon as his handler allows it! [I don’t have the publisher of the picture, or the name of the photographer].
Here is the latest picture I have added to my ‘2018 Animals’ folder for my iPad.

Animals that qualify, have to be ‘cute’ or otherwise ‘interesting’. (Yes, I know: not very scientific, my criteria).

Friday/ a gargantuan chunk of freshwater

Friday night saw almost 3 inches of rainfall in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town.  Still, the Cape Town City Council is said to be entertaining the possibility of towing an iceberg from Antarctica to Cape Town, to further help boost the city’s low water inventory.  Say what? Can that possibly work? was my first reaction.

Well, here are the numbers*. Some 200 billion tons of ice from Antarctica slide into the sea in a typical year – the equivalent of more freshwater than the world uses in a year. Some icebergs float for 5 years in the ocean, and some make it to Gough Island. Such an iceberg could be towed from there, for the roughly 2,700 km (1,700 mi) distance to Cape Town.  The iceberg will be stationed off the coast (Cape Columbine on the west coast is mentioned), and could conceivably deliver 100 megaliter of water every day for a year as it melts.  (About 20% of the city of Cape Town’s needs).  If such a project is can be pulled off successfully, its cost is projected to be less than half the cost of desalinating an equivalent amount of seawater.

*From an article in the Sat Jun 2 issue of ‘Die Burger’ newspaper.

[Maps and information from Wikipedia] Gough Island has a temperate climate between 11 °C (52 °F) and 17 °C (63 °F). It’s about 91 sq km (35 sq mi). In 1995, the island was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to many species of birds, subantarctic fur seals and (unfortunately) house mice, an invasive species brought there by humans. A project underway by the United Kingdom aims to exterminate all of the mice by 2021, though. They kill as many as 600,000 chicks a year on the island.

Tuesday/ mountain lion attack

There was a mountain lion (cougar) attack on two mountain bikers on Saturday morning. Isaac Sederbaum (31) was injured but is OK, but his friend S.J. Brooks (32), tragically, did not survive. Brooks was an avid biker that had moved here from Boston. Before Saturday, 16 cougar attacks, one of which was fatal, had been reported in Washington state during the past century.

These Washington State animal stories made were in the news the last few weeks. 1: The mountain lion attack happened near North Bend. Dept of Fish & Wildlife officials later tracked the mountain lion down and killed it. It tested negative for rabies. 2: A rabid bat bit someone on the finger, at the University of Washington stadium. (If bitten, try to catch the bat & seek medical help immediately). 3: Picture of large crested porcupine on the loose, spotted in Spanaway. No porcupines in North America, so likely a pet no longer wanted & let loose. Still not found. 4: Bald eagle steals rabbit from baby red fox on San Juan Island. Fox was OK after dropping back to the ground. [Picture by Kevin Ebi/ livingwilderness.com]

Sunday/ stop and smell the roses

I walked to Trader Joe’s grocery store late afternoon, the way I do once a month.  I trade dollars at Trader Joe’s (well, electronic units of it) for frozen blueberries that I put in my hot oatmeal in the morning, and for unsweetened vanilla-flavored soy milk, that also goes with it.  Good stuff !

A rose here on 18th Avenue, on my way back from the Trader Joe’s grocery store to my house. It smelled every bit as beautiful as it looks: fragrant and rosy.

Wednesday/ Stellar’s jay

Infographic from allaboutbirds.org.  Year-round range map by birdsna.org.

I saw this jay sitting on my garage roof this morning, so I ran upstairs and snapped the Mr Jay Bird from my bedroom window. This one is called a Stellar’s jay, named after German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller. (Blue jays are close relatives, but a different species. Their feathers are mid-blues and they have a ‘black necklace’ on their off-white throats).