Pelagic Larval Stage

September 3, 2011

I love this video of baby giant octopi (5mm long) at the Vancouver Aquarium:

The CBC has an article about the event  and states that it is unlikely that any of the 300 hatchlings will survive:

Chances of survival are very low because giant Pacific octopuses have a seven to ten month long pelagic larval stage. To further our knowledge of octopus reproduction, we will attempt to feed and maintain some the larvae for as long as possible.

Pelagic means open water, think deep blue (i.e. no bottom) vs. a reef. I first read about pelagic larval stages in the book Reef Fish Behavior and was blown away at how profoundly different this mechanism is compared to anything I’m used to in the animal world.

I have a built-in assumption that parents and offspring share the same habitat (think Finding Nemo). With most reef fish, not only do the babies never see their parents again, they most likely will never see the same reef their parents inhabit. There is no nepotism on the reef.

How cool is that? And the giant Pacific octopus larvae can’t survive without this stage, or at least no one has figured out what is missing in an aquarium environment (yet).

Lion and the Lamb

May 9, 2009

Rex Murphy in the Globe and Mail has an amusing article about a carbon neutral expedition gone awry and the subsequent rescue by an oil tanker.

And verily, it is written, the carbon-spewing wolf shall lie down with the global-warming lamb … the petroleum-devouring lion shall eat straw like the carbon-neutral ox, or something like that.

Reminds me of the fictional story headline in Annie Proulx “The Shipping News”:


Bunny Power

April 3, 2009

WiFi Bunny

WiFi Bunny: 3 Watts

Bunny + one rotating ear: 4 Watts

Bunny + two rotating ears: 5 Watts

Kill A Watt: Priceless


Kill A Watt

Blue-Box Scavengers

August 7, 2008

An article in the Globe and Mail discusses the City of Toronto’s plan to Crackdown on Blue-Box Scavengers.

“A lot of people tend to think it’s providing cash to homeless individuals, whatever, but from a solid-waste perspective, we do want to crack down on it,” Mr. Rathbone said, acknowledging that the city does not yet have a firm estimate on how much money scavengers are costing the blue-bin system.

Once the material is at the curb, Mr. Rathbone said, it is legally city property, adding that the city won a court case a few years ago against companies that were scavenging cardboard from blue boxes when prices for that commodity shot up.

This makes me giggle endlessly, mostly because it shows what a smarty-pants I am. I think a new breed of blue-box scavenger has emerged who are mostly after beer/liquor bottles. When Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a new program to bring Ontarians “out of the dark ages” by adding a deposit to wine/liquor bottles together with a beer store return program I asked why?

But why? Doesn’t the Blue Box program work? The claim is that this program will help “divert about 25,000 to 30,000 additional tons of glass from landfills”. Wow. That can’t be right. That claim feels false to me mostly because, personally, the Blue Box is the absolutely best way to get rid of bottles and glass. I don’t want to put them in the garbage. Bottles are big, heavy, and they break. So where does this 25,000 tons of LCBO orginated landfill waste come from?

Read the rest of the full post to get my guess at an answer which I still think is correct. What I find interesting is that people continue to put wine/liquor bottles in the blue-bin despite the lost deposit and disdain from our elected officials.

The lesson here is that incentives are funny things and politicians should be careful about what they wish for. Incentives should be tied to intended outcomes. The desired outcome of the wine/liquor bottle program was to “divert about 25,000 to 30,000 additional tons of glass from landfills”. I suspect the program has done no such thing.

U.S. Congress Bashes Bulbs

January 2, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reports that the energy bill passed by the U.S. Congress last month will effectively ban incandescent light bulbs by 2012.

Representatives of Philips and General Electric, two of the biggest lightbulb makers, say there’s nothing to be concerned about. And Larry Lauck of the American Lighting Association says, “I think everyone’s pretty happy” with the new law. But then, the lighting industry has no reason not to be: People will need light, whatever the law says–according to Randy Moorehead of Philips, there are four billion standard-size (or “medium base”) light sockets in America alone.

So if you’re GE or Philips or Sylvania, the demise of the plain vanilla lightbulb is less a threat than an opportunity–an opportunity, in particular, to replace a product that you can sell for 50 cents with one that sells for $3 or more.

Goofy if you ask me.

I watched a TED Talk by Juan Enriquez titled Why Can’t We Grow New Energy? The general premise behind the talk is that new biological processes will make the extraction of energy from hydrocarbons much more efficient. He compared the efficiency gains to the Green Revolution that allowed food to be grown at cheaper and cheaper prices.

OK, I’m following but I’m confused because I’m expecting to hear how this technology will impact the carbon cycle and fix global warming (I guess I’m conditioned). Instead I hear about how efficiency gains in energy extraction/production will solve our future energy needs. Sounds great, I’m all for technical progress but doesn’t that just lower the price of energy and not really change the carbon footprint problem?

So as I’m busy scratching my head the talk ends with the following.

One of the things that we have to do is stabilize oil prices. This is what oil prices look like [shows oil price graph]. This is a very bad system because what happens is that your hurdle rates are set very low. People come up with these smart ideas about solar panels or for wind or something else and then, guess what, oil prices go through the floor and that companies go out of business and then you can bring the oil prices back up.

So if I have one closing and modest suggestion. Lets set stable oil prices in Europe and the United States. How do you do that? Well lets put a tax on oil that is non revenue tax that basically says for the next twenty years the price of oil will be whatever you want, 35 bucks or 40 bucks or whatever you want. If the OPEC prices falls below that we tax it, if it goes above that price that tax goes away. What does that do for entrepreneurs what does that do for companies? It tells people if you can produce energy for less than 35 bucks a barrel or less than 40 bucks a barrel or less than 50 bucks a barrel, lets debate it, then you will have a business. But lets not put people through a cycle where it doesn’t pay to research cause your company will go out of business as OPEC drives alternatives and prevents bioenergy from happening.

This is a “modest” suggestion? Fix a bottom price on oil to encourage entrepreneurs to do more energy oriented research.

Juan Enriquez sounds like a really bright guy and Wikipedia says that he “is recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on the economic and political impacts of life sciences.”

So why such a disconnect with free market principles? Is it academia in general or perhaps seeing the world through the lens of research grant funded innovation that makes suggestions like this seem modest and reasonable? Am I out to lunch with my misguided faith in free market economics when this is clearly a case for government command and control? I’m confused…. really confused.

No Gnus is Good Gnus

October 11, 2007

 Global Warming: Bad News for Gnus

Minks Gone Wild

September 16, 2007

Someone in Newfoundland decided to free Willy…. ummmm, I mean 6000 minks. But fear not.

Police said there is no reason for local people to be worried about the free-roaming animals.

“We’ve been advised they pose no danger, but now we are advising people that if they happen to see one in the yard, certainly don’t go over and try and capture it themselves.”

Perplexing in a weaselly kind of way.

Eco Nihilism

August 14, 2007

A New York Times Opinion piece named The 17 Percent Problem and the Perils of Domestication laments about man’s influence on the natural world.

In June, Science magazine published an article called “Domesticated Nature,” which noted that by 1995, “only 17% of the world’s land area had escaped direct influence by humans.” The article was accompanied by one map showing the enormous “human footprint” on Earth and another showing in a thicket of red lines the tangle of road networks and shipping lanes across the globe. That 17 percent figure is now certainly smaller, and that thicket of transport networks gets a little more tangled every day. The article takes as a working assumption what is obviously true: “There really is no such thing as nature untainted by people.”

Obviously true? Let’s try it with bees: “There really is no such thing as nature untainted by bees.” This sentence applied to bees really doesn’t make any sense because the word “untainted” is emotionally loaded in a “you’ve got the cooties” kind of way and it is really really weird to think of bees as separate from nature.

So why do we continue to think of humanity as separate from nature despite all the contrary evidence? It is an “Us vs. Them” mentality where Them is nature and Us is something very different and flawed beyond repair.

The Australian military had plan to shoot overgrazing kangaroos but some people are hopping mad so they will truck them away instead.

News reports said some of the 3,200 eastern grey kangaroos would be trucked to a village more than an hour away from the capital after protests over plans to employ professional hunters to shoot them.

The Defence Department said in May the kangaroos were causing serious erosion due to over-grazing on two drought-ravaged military bases, including a firing range, and were endangering a species of local lizard and the threatened gold sun moth.

Good thing the military love their gold sun moth :-)

Wal-Mart Canada says that it is launching a new sustainable packaging initiative.

The company set up the session to inform its suppliers about a “packaging scorecard” it will soon implement, and to connect those suppliers with packaging companies that have created innovative, environmentally friendly materials.

A report in the Globe and Mail says the Canadian federal government is supporting the plan to bury nuclear waste. The most interesting statement comes from Gord Edwards who is the director of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

“In the face of a growing nuclear industry or even a static nuclear industry, this is not really a solution to the catastrophe problem at the surface,” Mr. Edwards said. He said any kind of major explosion – such as a terrorist attack – at a surface storage site would release radioactive clouds as deadly as those at the Chernobyl reactor that melted down in the former Soviet Union in 1986.

So how many people died due to the Chernobyl accident? Read the rest of this entry »

Press Release Science

April 19, 2007

I use the term Press-Release-Ware to describe software that makes for a great press release but serves no other real purpose. I think science studies are now treading in the same waters. Consider Ethanol Vehicles Pose Significant Risk to Health.

“In our study, E85 increased ozone-related mortalities in the United States by about 200 deaths per year compared to gasoline, with about 120 of those deaths occurring in Los Angeles,” Jacobson said. “These mortality rates represent an increase of about 4 percent in the U.S. and 9 percent in Los Angeles above the projected ozone-related death rates for gasoline-fueled vehicles in 2020.”

The study uses a computer model to project the impact of E85 fuel (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) in 2020 and they come up with an increase of 200 “ozone-related” deaths in the U.S., more than half from heavily ozone polluted Los Angeles (think smog here). This is the “Significant Risk to Health”. Sheesh.

Newspapers are all over this stuff though.